Gong Fu Girl

A Taste of Taiwan and a Teattle Trip

Let’s talk about networking…or rather how much I hate doing it.

Around this time last year, I was among the many underemployed folks out there. My mother – a former career counselor – always stressed that making contacts helps in the process. I knew she was right; she’s almost always right. That didn’t stop me from stubbornly clinging to my hermitism.

I ended up finding more gainful employment (if you can call it that) in June of that year. Networking really had nothing to do with it, but had I stuck it out a little longer…who knows? One area where it seems to be crucial, however, is with my “other” job. Yeah, that whole tea thing.

Not to toot my own horn (man, that sounds wrong), but I had online tea networking down to an art. Juggling three social networks, three blogs, and a cat aren’t easy feats. And for some reason, my opinion seemed to matter to some people. What was odd, though, was how I fell out of the loop from January to – well – now.

No fault of the tea community, mind you, more a matter of stuff going on in my own head – introversion and depression at their most crippling. For a while, I was starting to believe I was “tea’d out”. I even thought of curbing the whole review thing entirely. It took real-life networking contacts to make me see the error of my ways.

If you folks haven’t made David Galli – oh, he, of PDXTea.org fame – a contact, you really should. This is a guy who doesn’t have networking down to an art; he actually has it down to a friggin’ science. And I’m forever in his debt for somehow keeping me in the IRL tea loop. Examples:

In late January, I received an e-mail from Chuck – the co-owner of The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants – to my “company” account informing me of new teas they got in. A whole flight of Taiwanese offerings awaited my palate perusal. It was Mr. Galli who had passed word to Chuck on how to contact me.

We made a jaunt out to the JP shop the following week and sampled some wonderful Formosan flavors. Particular standouts for me were an aged charcoal-roasted Dong Ding (review pending on It’s All About the Leaf), a GABA green tea (yes, such a thing exists!), and a Ruby black. Chuck also kindly passed along some heicha my way, something that’d been on my “List” for awhile. Before I left the shop, I had quite the bounty.

I also made a follow-up jaunt the next week when a much-touted organic Formosa green was in stock. To put it shortly, I picked up an ounce instantly. That and it’s become my go-to green tea on a work day – mainly for its ability to stand up to boiling water. And none of this would’ve been close to possible if I didn’t have an expert networker in my social arsenal.

Less than a month after that, I had a thought to finally make my way to Seattle. A fellow tea blogger had opened a new shop in Burien – a Seattle suburb town – and they were one of the few places that carried Korean teas. By luck or fate, I had landed a Thursday off, allowing me ample opportunity to make a day trip of it. A co-pilot seemed necessary as well, and I invited PDXTea Dave along. He proceeded to take the trip to another level.

Dave was kind enough to do the driving for the trek, and I covered the gas. We arrived in Burien less than three hours later. The Phoenix Teahouse was just as advertised on their Facebook page – a cozy shop right in the heart of downtown. Cinnabar Gong Fu was on hand to tea us to death. I must say, I was expecting her to be a lot more serious. It turned out she was just as silly as the rest of us. We blew through three exquisite Korean green teas – all with a “-jak” suffix, which I still have no translation for – and all possessed an exquisitely sweet and nutty profile with a wonderfully wildernessy finish.

My favorite of the bunch, however, wasn’t a green tea at all. Somehow, someway, Phoenix had acquired a Korean black (or red) tea dubbed “Dan-Cha“. I have no idea who Dan is, but his tea is wonderful. I ended up grabbing an ounce of it to go. (A full write-up just on that tea is forthcoming.)

Before we knew it, four hours had breezed by. Dave and I, in the midst of our sipping, even got a glimpse of some of Burien’s local color. The quaint town makes Northern Exposure look like a documentary. Cinnabar handled the traffic like a laid-back pro.

We ended up finally leaving as they were closing. That’s right. We closed down a tea bar. We’re hardcore like that. Before leaving, I made it a point to try some strongly-brewed Ceylon from a samovar they had in the shop. (You heard right, they have a f**king samovar!) Did I like it? Oh my, yes. Problem? I had to use the restroom immediately after. A career zavarka drinker, I will never be.

Originally, I intended The Phoenix Teahouse to be our only stop, but David had made more arrangements. The super-networker had connected with Michael J. Coffey – Seattle’s resident tea tome – and we added a second tearoom, The Floating Leaves, to our trek.

The Floating Leaves was an archival-looking tearoom on the fringes of downtown Seattle run by Shiuwen Tai. The first thing that caught my eye about the space was the grand table in the right-hand corner of the shop on entry. Shiuwen sat at one end – like a presiding tea judge – with various drinkers seated around it – sipping away with merriment.

As we got acquainted with the owner, I came to another realization. She was silly as well. What was it about tea that induced silliness?! First Cinnabar, now Shiuwen. Was no one in “Teattle” serious about their beverage occupation? No, I’m not complaining. Far from it.

After parting ways from the Leaves – and leaving with yet more oolong than I knew what to do with – we ended up making one last stop at a gigantic burrito place. I practically had to roll out of the joint when we were done. And that was only after ingesting the SMALL one.

Dave and I finally made it back to Portland about 11PM that night. Only a mere three hours past our originally-intended 8PM ETA. Was there nary a regret? Nay.

And that’s why it pays to have a real networker in your circle of friends – tea or otherwise. They remind you of other avenues of exploration that may not have occurred to you. I have a bevy of beverages as evidence.

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Thursday, April 26th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

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