Prior to making the trip up to Burlington, I made secondary arrangements for the day after. It was never my plan to head directly home after the tea-pick-a-thon, but rather to bum around parts of Seattle. And by that, I should specify that my idea of bumming around involves drinking tea for four-plus hours. I had no desire to journey into Seattle proper. So, I intended to stick to a town I was comfortable with based upon my last trip out.
The Phoenix Tea Shop was started by fellow tea bloggers Cinnabar GongFu (of “Gongfu Girl” fame) and Brett Boynton (“Black Dragon Tea Bar”), respectively. I’d visited the shop one other time with PDX Tea Dave – two years ago – and left completely wired on Korean greens. It was my goal to get equally tea drunk on various other things this time ‘round. I had roughly four hours to kill, and gave the two owners ample warning that I planned on loitering for that long.
Cinnabar was the one manning the station that day, and she gave me the affirmative. With the added stipulation that she intended to get me tea drunk. I’ve used the term “tea drunk” twice now; perhaps I should explain what that means. Yes, it really is a thing. Unlike with coffee – where you’d get exceedingly wired then sick if overdosed – having tea gradually throughout the day imparts an odd sort of euphoria. It’s hard to explain, and I can’t claim this as scientific proof. All I have is anecdotal evidence based upon the times I’ve hopped around on various cuppas.
The hostess first whipped out a Taiwanese black dubbed “Meishan Hong Cha” – named for the mountain from where it was picked. I thought I knew what to expect from a Taiwanese black, but this…whoah. It was oddly floral and sorta minty. Not at all like an Ali Shan black I’d tried, or the much-touted Ruby 18. At the same time, it was also…burly. Like a massage by a grizzly bear.
Next on the docket were two other offerings from Taiwan – this time a tasting comparison between a Spring-plucked Li Shan oolong and a Winter. Li Shan was my second favorite mountain in Taiwan; Ali Shan still reigns supreme by a hair. While both did have the same heathery, floral character, there was a lot more going on with the Winter Li Shan. Not sure how best to describe it – details are fuzzy – but it was richer, more poetic somehow in the mouthfeel, if that makes sense.
After that bit of high-altitude high-brow-ness, I decided to finally try one of their custom blends. I’d seen the tins for Cinnabar’s own concoction “Thyme Machine” before – a steampunk-inspired fusion of Keemun, Nilgiri and (of course) thyme. It was reminiscent of a masala chai on smell and taste, but noticeably calmer on the palate. I didn’t find that the thyme dominated, rather it let the tea base come through every once in a while. Was this enough to make me don goggles and a top hat…er, no. But I would gladly drink it again.
There were two other teas I tried in the interim…but I’m saving those for something “Beastly” in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. Yes, I’m a tease.
After two-plus hours of tea-ing, I realized, Oh yeah, I need food. Cinnabar recommended a taqueria place just cattycorner to the shop. There, I ran into my first batch of fried ice cream. Exquisitely debauch would be an understatement . Moving along.
The final bit of awesome Cinnabar had to impart from the Phoenix archives was a zhuan cha…but not just any ol’ “brick tea”. This stuff was made of compressed yellow tea. I was a little worried when she mentioned that it was made of the Jun Shan Yinzhen type. But that fear quickly subsided when I tried it. Unlike any yellow tea I’d encountered. Calling it such might be doing it a disservice. Taste-wise, it came across like a Bai Mu Dan by way of an oolong. Very strange but stupendous.
Once that share was consumed, she finally me she had to kick me out. (“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”) Politely, of course. I made a few purchases while I was at it, going only “slightly” over my allocated tea budget. When I settled out, she pointed me in the direction of a brewery where I was supposed to meet up with my old World Tea Expo compatriot, Lady Earl Steeper. Not that I needed it…I was “drunk” enough already.
But okay to drive.
A “steep story” by Geoffrey F. Norman