May 9, 2011

Tea tasting in Chinatown

The past weekend, we had family visit us and off we went to Chinatown. The first thing that struck me was that as we walked deeper down the main street, it looked less like San Francisco and more like an Oriental neighborhood with cramped shops selling all kinds of trinkets, gadgets and curios. The wares spilled onto the sidewalk and I could buy scarves for $5, SFO skyline paperweights for $3, paper lanterns for $2 and on and on. The color, pace, crowd and noise was reminiscent of another world and age.

In the midst of all the chaos, we spotted large beautiful shops which sported the sign "Free Tea Tasting". I took a quick peek into one and it was filled with rows upon rows of jars filled with tea as far as I could see. To one side was a huge wooden table with small tasting cups and about 15 seats arranged almost like in a sushi bar. Now, I have never tasted tea before and had no idea what to expect.

Our gracious hostess seated us and broke into a chatter, "If you like the tea you have to buy 1 bag and if you don't like it, you have to buy 1 kilo", and we were smiling. Then she told us that one has to wake up a tea before brewing it i.e rinse the dry tea leaves in boiling water for 5 seconds and throw the water away. That action rehydrates the tea leaves following which the tea is steeped in boiling water for under a minute depending on the type of tea. "Never more than a minute", she said. "That ruins the tea".
She poured us at least 6 kinds of tea and all the while she educated us about the teas. "Our flavored tea never tastes of the flavors because we don't add chemicals. We only infuse the smell so the tea has only the aroma but tastes like regular tea." And she was spot on. It was a delicate balance for the senses. As I raised the cup of jasmine tea, I could smell the jasmine but taste only regular tea. My favorite was the tea flavored with Ginseng. It was wonderful as it finished with a sweet after-taste in the back of the mouth. What an experience!

I always knew India to be the largest producer and consumer of tea. And with that comes a perception that it also has the most variety. But now after a visit to Chinatown, I'm not so sure.


Food Gal said...

There's nothing like enjoying tea in an actual tea house or tea shop. The care that goes into brewing it there really makes the experience unforgettable. It's when you can taste tea truly at its best.

zaeka said...

@Carolyn- so true. It was surprising that none of my friends knew about it :)