Tea, Flutes, and Yellow-Hatted Hoffmans

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of those places in Portland that’s a must see, if only for its attention to detail and authenticity. The entire structure is comprised of the garden proper, several period-specific buildings, a Koi pond, and a two-story tearoom toward the back – all taking up an entire city block. It is an awesome sight to behold. And the whole thing was constructed by artisans from Portland’s sister city in China, Suzhou.

This summer, I had the opportunity to partake of the garden on three occasions. One was a simple outing to show it off to relatives. The second was a wedding steeped in kickassitude. And the last wa an invitation I received from my friend HappyJ to partake of tea and…flute music?

That wouldn’t necessarily be a reason I would usually go into Portland proper, but I figured, “Why not?” How often to I make trips out to see music? (Answer: Never.) The musician in this case was a flautist by the name of Gary Stroutsos – whose music is steeped in Native American tradition. He was already starting his set by the time we got there. What we weren’t expecting was how crowded it was going to be.

The space the garden had allocated to him couldn’t seat very many, but every chair on the interior was occupied. HappyJ and I had to settle for outdoor seating at first, which was fine. It gave us an opportunity to hear the music while at the same time taking in the sounds of waterfalls. On occasion, we would even comment on what we were seeing or hearing.

Any attempts to talk, however, were greeted with a puckered, “Shhhh!” from a man seated across from us. I have no other way of describing him, except to say that he looked like Dustin Hoffman (a la Rainman) in a yellow hat.

After he shushed us, though, he continued to carry on muted conversations with his wife. A meditative hypocrite, splendid. I could’ve sworn he was heckling us, too.

Luckily, he and his gaggle of New Age-y senior citizens left relatively early. That and the Garden volunteers added extra seating on the interior – allowing us to hear what Stroutsos had to say. It turned out that he was a very genial guy with a quick wit about him. If there’s one thing I appreciate in musicians, it’s a sense of humor. He even serenaded a baby. That’s just spectacular.

Once the flautist set was over, HappyJ and I retired to the tearoom. Without exaggeration, it is the nicest tearoom in Portland. Too bad it has one of the most longest names in existence. Could I think of a better one? No. “Tower of Cosmic Reflection” does fit it to a “tea”.

HappyJ sipped an old-growth sheng pu-erh, whereas I went with something I hadn’t tried before (as is my nature). They possessed a 2005 Yunnan Jin that’d been pressed into a beengcha cake. Yunnan Gold? Aged? Cake? Four of my favorite words. And it was exquisite to the taste – honey-like, peppery, and with a subtle winy note on the end.

We parted ways shortly after. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday unless rare, casked ales was involved. I went home far too caffeinated – to the point of being called tea-drunk. Case in point:

I said this to my sister, “I need to tell you something.”

My sister looked up and said, “What?”

“I’m not your ‘holla-back’ girl,” I replied with a giggle.

I was cut off of tea for the rest of the night.

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Thursday, September 27th, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Lady Burgermount

I remember the first time I ever tried to pronounce the word “bergamot” in front of a bona fide tea professional. He instantly corrected me by saying, “It’s bergaMOT.” And here I was uttering the less pronounced, “bergamitt”. That’s the way it always looked to me.

The mitt-mispronunciation has since left my lexicon, but I find others having similar difficulty with it. Can’t say that I blame them; it’s a weird word. Why couldn’t they simply refer to it as Citrus bergamia like the bitter orange is ACTUALLY CALLED! Heck, “bergamia” even flows better than “bergamot”, which – to me – sounds like the name of an unleavened bread.

My absolute favorite butchering of bergamot, though, came from the one who brought me into this world. It was the second time we had ever ventured to Smith Teamaker, and it has since become our go-to mother/son tea spot. Tea was our ritual whenever she was in town.

Her “teafault” beverage was (and always will be) Earl Grey, and one particular variant has surpassed all others. Smith puts out a beverage dubbed “Lord Bergamot” – their take on the classic, bergamot oil-laden Earl Grey formula, only Smith-ized. The first time my mother ordered it, she said, “I’ll have the…Lord Ber-b-bergermont.”

Image from Everything Burger

Image from Everything Burger

After a few attempts, we settled on “Burgermount”.

Then I got to thinking…

Hey, why not Burgermount?!

It has a much better flow than “bergamot” ever will. It rolls off the tongue and has the added benefit of making one hungry. (Unless you’re vegetarian.) I almost want to start a petition to have that little bitter orange officially renamed. But I digress…

Mom, if you’re reading this. There is some Lord Burgermount on its way to you. Hope you appreciate it as always…and Happy Mums Day. May we have tea again soon.

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Sunday, May 13th, 2012 Steep Stories 2 Comments

Random Access No. 2: “Happy Time”

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Artwork Provided by Jason Norman

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Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 Webcomics 1 Comment

I work for tea money.


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