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Tea in a Cold Place Full of Lakes

May 01, 2008

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I spent the end of last week and the beginning of this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a far cry from Seattle on a lot of levels. The people in that part of the United States, at least the ones I was in contact with, are fueled by steak, overcooked previously frozen vegetables and soft-drinks/sodas/cokes (or whatever regional term you use for those over-sugared, highly caffeinated drinks that are really bad for you). The differences in food and drink from what we were used to at home contributed to a noticeable cultural shift. And in this land of Lipton tea bags we did not hold out hope for any good tea during the trip.

Sparrow Tongue Yellow OolongBut in the midst of this alien midwest landscape, on the one night we were left to our own devices we stumbled upon a fabulous Thai restaurant called Naviya’s Thai Kitchen. The atmosphere was nice and the food was excellent, some of the best Thai cuisine I have had anywhere. And the bigger surprise was one of the most impressive tea menus of any restaurant I’ve ever been in, provided separately to us when we inquired after something on the less extensive listing of teas on the food menu. We decided on a “Sparrow Tongue Yellow Oolong,” after resisting the 1964 vintage pu-ehr and several other tempting options. The Sparrow Tongue was a perfect choice, served in a large glass pot with Molo float borosilicate tea glasses. Admittedly, I have never heard of a yellow oolong before. The particular tea is not listed on their online menu so I can not confirm, but it may have been a yellow tea, and not an oolong. The leaves were large and quite green, with a complexity of flavor akin to some of the better green oolongs I have had, so the “yellow” in its name could mean something unrelated to “yellow tea.” In any case, it was quite delicious and the server replenished the water for five total infusions, which it held up to admirably.

Two days later we had another quite unexpected great tea experience. We had passed by La Société du Thé when they were closed, but after peering beyond the enticing samovars in their window and after checking out their website we made some time for a visit there during shop hours. They have a little sit-down area for tea, so we chose a pot of the Ghengis Khan:

From Fujian Province. Lapsang Souchong Mélange with Silver Needle White Tea and Jasmine. The combination makes a fragrant and velvety cup.

It was quite a wonderful tea, reminiscent of Russian Caravans, but much more delicate. We bought four ounces of it to take home, along with four ounces of the Yunnan Green, a very smooth Chinese green. The atmosphere of the shop was quite nice, full of historical documents, tea accoutrements and top shelf teas, including several offerings from Mariage Frères.

It is a wonderful thing to discover such gems in a completely unfamiliar place.

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