Last month Arne and I spent a week in Oregon to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary… as well as my ability to eat again. (Sorry, OR friends and family… this was a gooey romantic trip, and we made no room for anyone else.) We had a wonderful time and, of course, ate as much as we could hold. Alas, that didn’t seem to be as much as it once was. Still, we had some great highlights I’ll share with you over the course of November, especially since I’ll be posting every day for NaBloPoMo.
Though we’ve visited the stunning Portland Japanese Garden many times (and we didn’t miss it this time either), we had never made it to the Lan Su Chinese Garden and its working teahouse. The one thing the Japanese garden lacks is a real teahouse, so we were excited.
We made our way to the garden on a drizzly afternoon, after brunch at Tasty & Alder (which did not impress me as much as Tasty & Sons, but maybe we didn’t order as well. The chocolate-potato doughnuts with creme Anglaise were still awesome, though). Anyway, I wore the yellow rain slicker I have no call for in Albuquerque, and felt like I matched the autumn trees, which were just approaching peak color.
After a bit, the waiter brought an iron teakettle of hot water, which he placed over a little tabletop brazier. He returned shortly with a wooden tray holding a large bowl with tongs; a small gravyboat-shaped pitcher; a handleless, teacup-sized lidded cup; three small dishes with tea leaves on them; and two thimble-sized white ceramic cups with matching saucers. He told us which tea was which – I instantly forgot – and then demonstrated how to brew tea in the Gaiwan Ceremony style.
He placed the chosen tea in the lidded container and poured hot water over it, then immediately poured that water off into the small pitcher and the teacups. This served to rinse the tea, he said, as well as to heat all the teaware. Then he refilled the lidded container and used its lid to gently stir the tea, causing it to “bloom” (soften and expand). After a little more than a minute, he emptied the pitcher and refilled it with the tea, then emptied and refilled the tiny cups. These were robust teas, he told us, which could take 8 or 10 steepings before getting bitter, but each steeping should be a little shorter than the last. Then he left us on our own.
I’m not a tea connoisseur – I usually drink flavored black teas – but these teas were lovely, light yet complex with interesting woodsy notes. I think I would have loved almost any tea served this way, though. The steeping and serving, the judgment of when each tiny batch was ready, was a slow, exquisite meditative joy, made even lovelier by the coming and going of rain and weak sunlight through the intricate windows of the teahouse.
I found that I preferred the first few steepings – we took to calling them “flushes,” though I don’t know if that’s an accurate use of the term – and that, indeed, the tea got a little more bitter and needed to be steeped more briefly each time.
The little snacks were tasty, not amazing – though the eggs were beautiful, and the intensely flavored, sour-sweet plums good enough that I took a photo of the wrappers so I can try to find some at Talin – but they were satisfying accompaniments to the tea. Several platters of steamed buns were carried past our table, and they looked great, but we valiantly resisted ordering any. We stayed for quite a while, steeping all three teas at least four or five times, just enjoying the process and the quiet simplicity. It was a wonderful oasis in an active week, and I look forward to visiting again.
NaBloPoMo 2014 post #4