The Teacup – Pu-erh (Sweet & Smooth, 2000 Vintage Brick)

Two small personal notes before I dive into the story for today: The husband and I were dawdling in the tea aisle at the grocery store last week, when he looked at me and told me that it was about time I got my tea at a tea store. I knew he was right, of course. I just think it’s funny that he’s the one who had to say it first.

My other little issue is that I named this site Gongfu Girl, even though I didn’t know much at all about gongfu cha. To be honest, when you find a domain name like that available, you don’t pass it over. But I wasn’t just being pretentious. I was more hoping that I could document my experiences so that people could learn it with me, and it would be about growing into the Way of Tea as much as anything else. After the amazing weekend I just had, I have a list of teaware to find and buy, a lot of stories to tell, and a lot of inspiration to fuel my journey.

The TeacupAmong some of the things I enjoyed on Saturday was a trip with my husband to a tiny little shop on Queen Anne Avenue, The Teacup. We took a little side trip up there after enjoying crepes at Pike Place Market, and we got there just in time to be invited to sit at a table where the manager, Brett, was serving tea gongfu-style.

Brett is a very enthusiastic tea connoisseur, and his love for the leaf and the process really shines through when he’s sharing it with his friends and customers. We sat down with Brett and six other young men, and caught the last round of an oolong with a mellow, woody flavor. He then began the first infusion of pu-erh (designated sweet and smooth, a 2000 vintage), passing around bricks for us to see and smell, explaining the journey of the tea leaf from plant to beverage.

A pu-erh brick.He brewed the tea in what I can assume was a yixing pot – a small clay pot that takes on the qualities of the pu-erh over time – and he decanted the dark liquor into a serving vessel as it was done infusing. The tea was poured first into tall, thimble-like cups, and we then transfered it to the drinking cup and raised the empty one to our noses to inhale the aroma.

Pouring the tea.It’s very hard to find those aroma cups for sale, but after inviting the rich, warm air into my nostrils, it’s an experience I don’t want to go long without. I have an intense urge to share it with my friends and family. This pu-erh had the distinct smell of walking through my favorite campsite just after a heavy rain, and I felt a strong personal connection with it. Smell is one of the most intense memory triggers, after all.

The taste of the tea was not disappointing. Again, like moss and pine needles on a wet day, but in liquid form. If I had known this fragrance and taste was available to me in my own teapot, I would not have waited so long to find gongfu cha or pu-erh in my own city!

We shared several infusions from the same leaves, and there were subtle changes with each round. As we finished, one of his friends took the captain’s chair, and he got up to assist me in finding some new teas to take home, along with my first gaiwan – a simple, white, porcelain cup, saucer, and lid.

So yes, I have more teas to share with you this week. Every time someone opened a canister of tea, the fragrance would surround me and hold me hostage. It sounds dramatic, but I really felt moved by these teas.

Decanting the pu-erh into a serving pitcher.I made pu-erh with the gaiwan for my friends when I returned home. I got six infusions from one large tablespoon, and it had the same nostalgic effect on them as it did on me. I’m anxious to get a yixing pot that I can dedicate to pu-erh, and be witness to the characteristics that the tea imparts with the clay as time goes by.

In the meantime, I will be returning to The Teacup to buy wonderful tea and teaware and to learn more from Brett, who has a lot of knowledge and passion to share. He serves gongfu cha every Saturday afternoon at 1:00. The shop is at 2207 Queen Anne Avenue.