Sunday, November 30, 2008

Teacup's New Spot!

After 18 wonderful years at 2207 Queen Anne Ave. N. in Seattle, the Teacup has moved to an even better location! Our new store (at 2128 Queen Anne Ave. N.) is twice as big, and much more visible. We are now at the busy corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street. Locals sometimes call this intersection "Caffeine Corner," since there were coffee shops on nearly every corner. Teacup's big move signals that coffee is out and tea is in here on Queen Anne!

Elisabeth (the owner of Teacup), Zen, Charlie, and Lydia, along with others, worked very hard for over three months to bring us this fantastic new store.

This weekend (November 28th to November 30th) was our grand opening weekend. I worked on Friday and Saturday and had a lot of fun. The store was literally overflowing with new and old customers who came by to see our awesome new location. Customers were impressed by the lovely paint and furnishings. Also, many people approved of all the natural light we receive through our large glass windows. Teacup is a Queen Anne hilltop institution and most people are thrilled that we will remain just that.

I take a lot of pride in my work at Teacup and I have personally provided thousands of people with a great tea drinking and/or tea buying experience. I'm also very happy that our small business is experiencing sensible and sustainable growth in these unfavorable economic times.

Please check out Queen Anne View blog for another nice article on our move.

A photo of the store from across the street:

Regular customers drinking tea:

Customer buying bulk tea:

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Story of Shu Shu the Tea Dragon

Once upon a time in Beijing, China there lived a little tea dragon named Shu Shu. Shu Shu was 500 years old (or about 10 years old in human years). Every day he rode his bicycle down to the tea house, where his good friend "Old Wang" made tea. Tea dragons, like Shu Shu, do not drink tea through their mouths like we humans do. Instead, they enjoy hot tea showers. Old Wang would brew many pots of delicious tea and after he and his guests had savored the taste and aroma, Old Wang would pour a little tea over Shu Shu. As the steaming hot tea evaporated off of Shu Shu's head and back, it conditioned Shu Shu's clay skin. After many years of hot tea showers Shu Shu hopes to have very soft and shiny skin... for that is the dream of every tea dragon!

Our Hero Shu Shu:

Besides tea, Shu Shu also loved to read. He spent many hours at libraries and bookstores happily reading as much as he could. He read everything he could get his claws on, from fiction to cookbooks. If he wasn't at the tea house with Old Wang, he would be found with his snout in a book!

He really loves to read!:

One day, while enjoying a nice tea shower with Old Wang, Shu Shu was very sad. Old Wang is a very kind and perceptive man, and so he asked Shu Shu, "Why are you so sad today my little dragon friend?"

"I am so sad today because I have read every book in China! I do not know what to do. I need new books to enjoy," answered Shu Shu, as tears rolled down his scaly clay cheeks.

Drinking tea with Old Wang:

"Oh dear," said Old Wang, "That is terrible news, but do not worry, I have a plan. This afternoon a very nice couple from America are coming over to have tea with us. We shall ask them to adopt you and bring you back to their home in Seattle. In America you will find millions of new books to enjoy. They should keep you busy for a long time."

"That is a wonderful plan," Shu Shu replied "But what about tea? You know I cannot live without my hot tea showers!"

"Do not worry, Shu Shu. This couple loves good Chinese tea and they will make sure that you get many showers of steaming hot oolong, green, puer and red tea!"

That afternoon, Shu Shu met Brian and Susan. They were very cool and he liked them right away. They had spent the last decade traveling around the world in their pedal-powered, zero emissions hot air balloon!

Brian and Susan were happy to help Shu Shu immigrate to America but they would be unable to provide enough tea showers and books for the cute little guy, so they arranged to have Shu Shu adopted by their friend Brett.

Old Wang and Shu Shu said their goodbyes. Although they were a bit sad they knew that they would meet again someday, and that this was a wonderful opportunity for Shu Shu.

Brian, Susan and Shu Shu flew home to America where Shu Shu met his new family. Brett, Alanna and Cora took an instant liking to the bookish little dragon... and they lived happily ever after!

Part of our family:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Long Yuan Hao - "Bing vs Tuo"

In July 2007 I received a small shipment of puer tea cakes (普洱餅茶) imported directly from Yunnan, China. These cakes were all young sheng cha (生茶). Among the 8 different varieties I imported, one was the "2006 Long Yuan Hao Gold Medal Bingcha" (龍園號金級餅茶). All the tea cakes look, smell and taste great but this cake is a standout for me. After I posted some photos of these new tea cakes my online tea buddy (thanks John!) mentioned that he had the tuocha (沱茶) version of the same 2006 Long Yuan Hao Gold Medal tea in his personal puer collection! We decided to do a little puer trade, and age the teas together. This experiment should help us to further understand the ways different compressed tea shapes will age. Also, this tea experiment may provide insights on American puer aging regionalities, because I am in Seattle and he is in Virginia. I plan to cup these teas together every 3 years and post the tasting notes to my blog.

On August 8, 2007 I did the first cupping to get a baseline on these young green puers. Both the Bing (cake shaped) and the Tuo (bowl shaped) had long twisted leaves and a really sweet aroma. The bing had a little more smoke in the aroma while the tuo was subtle. The dry leaves looked similar with a gorgeous mix of color including green, white, orange, yellow and brown.

I used the bowl and spoon cupping method with 5 grams of each tea plus 1.5 cups of 200 degree water. I mixed each tea gently while smelling the spoons. They both smelled amazing. These teas have very lively and complex aromas. The tuo's aroma was softer and a bit fruitier, like a green apple. The bing has more warming smoke and a camphorish spice, but these notes were also present in the tuo.

After 2 minutes, I ladled the tea soup into two small tea bowls. The color was brilliant yellow on each cup and both had crystal clear broth. I tasted the Bing first. It was sublime. The taste was very sweet and smooth. The smoky aroma was gone as I sipped the tea. In its place was a fruity, herbaceous aroma with a hint of licorice. Then I tasted the tuo. It had a great, although slightly weaker, taste than the bing. Also, it finished with a tiny hint of astringency that the bing, steeped to the exact same degree, did not. After a few more sips of the tuo its flavors seemed to adjust and instead of astringency I felt a sparkling sweetness that I associate with high mountain oolong teas.

I added more water several times and enjoyed each infusion, then I took a closer look at the infused leaves. I found that those of the tuo were slightly less even, having more small, medium and large bits than the bing which was almost completely large twisted leaves.

I savored each puer for a short time as did my wife, who slightly favored the bing, for its superior complexity and smoothness. We both agree that each tea was superb and look forward to revisiting them every 3 years.

Tuocha (left) Bingcha (right):

Tuo and Bing (naked):

Puer tea soup:

Tea soup (wide shot):

A happy puer cupping guy:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hawaiian Tea - 夏威夷的茶

Me and my girls (Alanna and baby Cora) just returned from a short but wonderful vacation to Maui, Hawaii. We rented a little condo in Honokowai (just north of Lahaina). The condo was across the street from Honokowai beach park and practically next door to a groovy little health food store and a farmers market! Needless to say we were in heaven! The condo was well stocked with all the basic things we needed to cook our meals and it even had some beach stuff and a cooler we could use. The only thing it lacked was a teapot. As you may already know "coffee is king" in the Hawaiian islands. International love for Hawaiian coffee has been increasing ever since the 1800's when they first started growing it. I didn't mind the lack of a teapot too much. I had brought along a good infuser and some very nice teas. We had: Kama Assam from India's Satrupa garden, Spring 2008 Lishan High Mountain oolong that I had brought home from my May 2008 trip to Taiwan, and some very tasty Sencha green tea that a friend had brought me after she spent a few weeks in Japan. Alanna and I would start each day with a nice mug (or two) of hot tea, (the mugs at the condo, appropriately, had palm trees and pineapples on them), then we would make an infusion to pour over ice after we returned from our daily adventuring.

On the flight to Maui I was very excited to read an article in Hana Hou magazine called: The Archipelago of Tea. It was about real Hawaiian tea being produced on the Big Island! The production of which is still very small, but the tea farmers and other people involved seem to be truly passionate about making great teas. The article made it clear that Hawaiian tea is crafted with tea connoisseurs in mind and that the farmers view their own tea production as an artistic outlet. It sounds like my next trip to Hawaii will have to include tea on the Big Island!

I have tasted real teas from all over the world including: India, China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Kenya, Malawi, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Georgia, Nepal, Japan, South Carolina, and Washington State, but I've yet to have any genuine Hawaiian tea. Alanna and I searched for it while on Maui, but we were unable to find any. Thanks to a great post by Another Tea Blog I have a few leads and links to share. Onomea, Tea Hawaii, Big Island Tea, and Mauna Kea Tea. I plan to order some samples soon and I'll let you know what I think in the future.

Kapalua Bay:

Iao Needle:

Baldwin Beach:

Monday, November 3, 2008

What is the Black Dragon Tea Bar?

I started the Black Dragon Tea Bar (烏龍茶几) on May 1, 2004 here in Seattle, Washington. This small business provides tea education, tea catering and bulk tea sales. I operate the business out of my home and thus do not have a "brick and mortar" store. My goal with BDTB is to promote the healthy ritual of daily tea drinking. To achieve this goal, I simply serve people excellent tea. That is really all it takes, because once people have tasted "the good stuff" they usually fall head over heels in love with it. That's what happened to me and I'll bet that's what happened to you too.

In these last years since I started my business, I have brewed thousands of cups of tea for clients at many different locations around the city (such as: private houses, restaurants, art galleries, Microsoft campus, Seattle Chinese Garden and the University of Washington.) Because I incorporate intriguing tea stories and traditional Chinese music, my tea catering service provides entertainment, education and healthy refreshment! I also host occasional tea festivals and tea "meet-up" events around Seattle. If you would like to join my email list for invitations to these events, or if you would like to get more information about my tea catering service, please contact me at

*** Update January 2012 - Black Dragon Tea Bar now only exists as this blog. All of my local tea catering and bulk tea sales are now part of Cinnabar's and my business Phoenix Tea.

A photo of me serving tea at the ArtXChange gallery: