Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Steepless in Seattle; Tea Drunk in Burien

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.

Burien.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A “steep story” by Geoffrey F. Norman

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lazyliteratus

Tea blogger, professional cleaner of toilets, amateur people watcher.
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13 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Robert Godden

    Of course tea drunk is a thing. A good thing. I’ve been a functioning teaholic for years.
    Also thanks for “taqueria” . It was a new word to me. A good word.

    • Profile photo of lazyliteratus

      We can quit whenever we want…and why would we want to?

      “Taqueria” is one of those words I’d seen in passing, but never used myself. I’m amending that.

  2. I wouldn’t say that I kicked you out – you had an impending hookup at a bar!

    Nice writeup. I really enjoy getting the opportunity to drink tea with out-of-town tea friends. One correction: The yellow tea is a brick (zhuan), not a beeng (饼, Pinyin: bing). Bing is the term for a round, flat cake.

    • Profile photo of lazyliteratus

      Hahaha, no, I was paraphrasing with grand gestures. And it was not a “hookup” at the bar. A friend and her boyfriend. Okay, that didn’t sound much better. Point being, platonic!

      Oh, and change made.

  3. I have never even heard of Burien… but it sounds like they have quite a tea shop there! Your trip sounds amazing, too!

    • Profile photo of lazyliteratus

      Burien looks exactly like Beaverton. Same weird denizens, too. Good parts are interspersed with the bad parts. It’s odd to say I felt right at home.

  4. Profile photo of Jackie

    “I was a little worried when she mentioned that it was made of the Jun Shan Yinzhen type.”

    I wouldn’t exactly call myself a complete layman but I have no idea what you mean. Why the fear? Why is Yinzhen and what is wrong with it?
    Nice write up and nice to see pics of Cinnabar’s place again.

    • Profile photo of lazyliteratus

      Jun Shan Yinzhen is like the gyokuro of yellow teas. It is also the most temperamental (I’ve found) to brew. Always turned out kinda vegetal. I had more luck with the different Huang Ya grades.

  5. Profile photo of Xavier

    I need to drink more tea to reach the tea drunk attitude.

  6. Profile photo of Peter

    Whenever you write, I always come to the conclusion that tea is definitely a man’s drink. How many drinks actually get described as being Like a massage by a grizzly bear?

    Leaf-swirling men everywhere rejoice.

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