Tea, Flutes, and Yellow-Hatted Hoffmans

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of those places in Portland that’s a must see, if only for its attention to detail and authenticity. The entire structure is comprised of the garden proper, several period-specific buildings, a Koi pond, and a two-story tearoom toward the back – all taking up an entire city block. It is an awesome sight to behold. And the whole thing was constructed by artisans from Portland’s sister city in China, Suzhou.

This summer, I had the opportunity to partake of the garden on three occasions. One was a simple outing to show it off to relatives. The second was a wedding steeped in kickassitude. And the last wa an invitation I received from my friend HappyJ to partake of tea and…flute music?

That wouldn’t necessarily be a reason I would usually go into Portland proper, but I figured, “Why not?” How often to I make trips out to see music? (Answer: Never.) The musician in this case was a flautist by the name of Gary Stroutsos – whose music is steeped in Native American tradition. He was already starting his set by the time we got there. What we weren’t expecting was how crowded it was going to be.

The space the garden had allocated to him couldn’t seat very many, but every chair on the interior was occupied. HappyJ and I had to settle for outdoor seating at first, which was fine. It gave us an opportunity to hear the music while at the same time taking in the sounds of waterfalls. On occasion, we would even comment on what we were seeing or hearing.

Any attempts to talk, however, were greeted with a puckered, “Shhhh!” from a man seated across from us. I have no other way of describing him, except to say that he looked like Dustin Hoffman (a la Rainman) in a yellow hat.

After he shushed us, though, he continued to carry on muted conversations with his wife. A meditative hypocrite, splendid. I could’ve sworn he was heckling us, too.

Luckily, he and his gaggle of New Age-y senior citizens left relatively early. That and the Garden volunteers added extra seating on the interior – allowing us to hear what Stroutsos had to say. It turned out that he was a very genial guy with a quick wit about him. If there’s one thing I appreciate in musicians, it’s a sense of humor. He even serenaded a baby. That’s just spectacular.

Once the flautist set was over, HappyJ and I retired to the tearoom. Without exaggeration, it is the nicest tearoom in Portland. Too bad it has one of the most longest names in existence. Could I think of a better one? No. “Tower of Cosmic Reflection” does fit it to a “tea”.

HappyJ sipped an old-growth sheng pu-erh, whereas I went with something I hadn’t tried before (as is my nature). They possessed a 2005 Yunnan Jin that’d been pressed into a beengcha cake. Yunnan Gold? Aged? Cake? Four of my favorite words. And it was exquisite to the taste – honey-like, peppery, and with a subtle winy note on the end.

We parted ways shortly after. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday unless rare, casked ales was involved. I went home far too caffeinated – to the point of being called tea-drunk. Case in point:

I said this to my sister, “I need to tell you something.”

My sister looked up and said, “What?”

“I’m not your ‘holla-back’ girl,” I replied with a giggle.

I was cut off of tea for the rest of the night.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar of bram bram says:

    Hope the rest of the night was short ;)

    Very nice garden.

    1. The rest of the night was as innocent and short as could be.

  2. Avatar of jackie jackie says:

    Sounds like a nice outing Geoff, love all the pics you’ve added. Now I’d like to know, what else is on their tea list? Also, the tea you chose sounds good but I’m wondering is it also pretty expensive when served in an establishment like this one?

    1. Believe it or not, they’re not that expensive. They really get’cha if you ask for “gongfu-style”….which I find entirely unnecessary. A simple gaiwan does the trick just fine. They’re selection at the Garden is mainly Chinese/Vietnamese – not much deviation there. Probably for the sake of authenticity given the location. However, the teas listed belong to Tao of Tea, and they have other locations. That and their website (www.taooftea.com) lists other worldly stuff.

  3. Avatar of xavier xavier says:

    Rule number 1: be as much tea drunk as you can.
    Rule number 2: don’t let anyone tell you you are too much tea drunk
    Rule number 3: music + tea is really great.

    1. I agree with all three.

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