Let me start with a little background. Growing up in a Chinese family, we’d usually have tea at dim sum, after a large celebratory meal (ie. Chinese New Year or Mid Autumn Festival), or when we have guests over. Visitors were only offered tea (made with tea bags) or water, never coffee. So to me, drinking tea equates to helping our digestive systems, especially when eating greasy foods, or as a welcoming drink for our guests.
My First Tea House Experience
However, this all changed the day when Mr. Chau and I stumbled into a tea house. I couldn’t remember how I noticed Cultivate Tea, with their entrance slightly tucked in and the minimal lighting inside the store. But something made me want to check them out. Once inside, we were greeted by a man and a woman (Jude & Lynn – their names which I learned on my second visit) behind a beautiful wooden counter. The tea flight on their short menu caught my eyes so we decided to give that a try. Little did we know we’d end up spending the next two hours there.
So I thought I knew How to Brew Tea…
I’ve tried sake flights and whiskey tastings, but have never done a tea tasting nor have I heard of it before. So without any expectations or tea knowledge, we sat down and just observed what’s happening in front of us. We watched as Jude selects the tea and Lynn prepare the teaware. While it might seem like she’s randomly selecting the teapots and cups, the fact that she waited until Jude told her the tea selection before reaching for the teaware signals that there are more thoughts put into this than what meets the eyes.
Lynn’s meticulous movement while brewing tea was very captivating. She was swift yet graceful as she moves her hands in fluid motions over the gaiwan and cups. I’ve never seen anyone brew tea like this in front of me before. It’s different than the Japanese tea ceremony or the showy gongfu cha brewing I’ve seen on YouTube. Maybe it was the setting, state of mind, and timing, but I remember these details quite vividly because it was impactful. I thought I knew how to brew tea but realized now that I’m just a frog in the well (井底之蛙).
While the tea is being prepared, Jude told us the stories behind each of the teas he selected – where it’s from, how it’s harvested, flavour notes that we might be able to pick up and so on. He let us smell the dried tea leaves before putting them into the warmed gaiwan, then asked us to smell the tea again. I’m so surprised at how just a slight temperature change can bring about different aromas from the tea.
I Fell in Love with Gongfucha Style Tea Brewing
We got to try teas that were steeped multiple times which were brewed gongfucha style. There were so many infusions that I can’t even remember how much tea we drank. The first 3 infusions were the most interesting because the teas seem to evolve each time it’s brewed. I was very much fascinated by this. It never occurred to me that the same tasting notes can get stronger or weaker after the initial infusions.
When asked what we thought of the tea, I was a little intimidated to provide an answer. I afraid of sounding stupid, especially when I would pick up notes that are different from what was described. But Jude and Lynn were very patient and gave us a lot of guidance. Having someone there to give you feedback and answer questions made it a lot easier to understand what I’m tasting.
Takeaway: Don’t Just Drink Tea, Experience It
I never thought I’d enjoy an afternoon of just drinking tea because it felt like an elderly person’s activity. But after this, it really opened up my perspective on not just drinking tea, but actually tasting and experiencing it. From learning where the tea came from and how it’s harvested to brewing it properly and savouring the tea instead of gulping it down. I felt more connected to the teas because of this.
The biggest takeaway from my first visit is that tea, specifically loose leaf teas, can take us on a sensory journey. I’ll expand on this topic later but this is how I got curious about loose leaf teas.