Sunday, July 11, 2010

Zen Dog Studio Teahouse: Please Pour More Pu-er

I’ve just become a convert.

Unlike my brief stint at Bible camp where I was the only kid who didn’t cry from the spirit of Jesus (“What’s wrong with me?” I asked the counselor), I’ve been moved to tears by sipping a beautifully crafted, complex Purple Tip pu-er tea at Zen Dog Studio Teahouse in Seattle’s Crown Hill neighborhood.

Since I first blogged about Zen Dog a year and a half ago, I’ve spent many hours here, sipping tea with Zen Dog tea master Larry Murphy, trying his different teas, having great conversations. He has become a treasured friend, and he’s introduced me to others here who have also become my friends. And I bring my friends here. Call it tea love.

At first all I wanted was jasmine pearl, a refined but familiar floral green tea. Then I slowly worked through various oolongs—a richer, fermented tea—and recently settled on the Zen Dog House Roast as my new favorite tea I take home for my morning pot. (Larry roasts this oolong in his upstairs studio, which releases a heavenly aroma.)

But I initially resisted pu-er (also spelled puerh), which Bon Appetit magazine called “the tea for coffee lovers” because of its rich, strong, earthy flavor compared to many teas. Never been a coffee drinker myself.

Today we’re sitting in front of Larry’s alter to tea, a shiny, smooth camphor wood table as he carefully unwraps the aged brick of tea and slices off a bit for brewing.

“This tea is from a 500-year-old tree in Yunnan Province,” says Larry. He gets his fine teas from small estates in southern China, where tea growing and processing is a high art.

While outside it’s almost 90 degrees, inside Larry heats the pure water he’s collected from a local artesian well to a light boil. With the front door open to let in the breeze, we hear wind chimes bump against each other, ringing softly.

As we wait a moment for the tea to steep, Larry tells us “Pu-er opens the heart.” Have I perhaps been afraid of this tea unleashing my tightly held emotions?

After pouring the first brew over a fat little ceramic Buddha on the table, we sip the next deep amber brew from small brown Yixiang clay cups. When she finishes her first cup, Jillian exclaims, “What a quick hit!”

Larry leans back and smiles. “This tea is so light it almost disappears and vaporizes on the tongue. It’s effervescent, silky smooth.”

I’m just surprised that I like what I taste. The tea is light and smooth, not bitter or astringent like I’d expected. But underneath the pleasant taste lurks a mysterious, ungraspable something else. It’s of the earth, but also sunshine and rain and the sea. There’s more. I can’t pin it down.

“This is good stuff!” I say with a smile.

Pu-er is prized in China, and Americans are just starting to become aware of it. And like a fine aged wine, a premium pu-er from a wild and ancient tree that has been processed and stored well is expensive and much sought after by tea connoisseurs. People even buy pu-er as an investment.

We sip multiple brews from the same tea leaves, talking, laughing, then being quiet and noticing the sensations in our mouth and body that this tea evokes.

“I’m feeling a direct connection to Qi, the universal life force,” says Larry. “There’s more energy with this pu-er (a 2004 brick) than the 2007, but there’s also a deep stillness.”

I know what he means.

Jillian and I feel it in the back of our throats, and then I feel a tingling around my nose and forehead. “The third eye,” says Larry.

I consider myself a pragmatist in general, but as I’m driving home I suddenly feel a tightening in the back of my throat. Then tears start forming in my eyes. I’m not thinking about anything in particular, but I feel moved.

Is this the heart-opening from pu-er that Larry talks about?

With surprise, I realize it must be. Tea!

When You Go
Zen Dog Studio Teahouse is on 85th Street in Crown Hill, about 6 blocks west of 15th Avenue Northwest. Look for the big Chinese lanterns hanging in the trees and bushes around the house. We drank the 2004 purple-tip pu-er. If you’re not in Seattle, you can buy Zen Dog’s tea online.


Jillian said...

This is a wonderful article and you did such a nice job describing Zen Dog Tea House, Larry and the delicious mind-elevating-heart-opening-Puer! Thank you for graciously including me in your article- I'm touched!
your puer-pal, Jillian

Kathleenodell said...

You have made me crave this tea, and I've never had the chance to taste it. Going online to see if I can get some down here in SoCal...

Barry said...

Okay, now I gotta go there soon. I remember your earlier post and promised myself I'd visit this place but (life being what it is - and my mind being what it is) haven't yet made the plunge to Ballard.

Now's the time!

jill said...

Hey Jillian,
So glad we shared this exquisite tea together! More puer!

Kathy - Great! I hope you enjoy the tea and experience some of the same "opening" I did.

Yes, go have tea with Larry. I've met so many interesting, creative, and artistic (redundant?) people there.

Anonymous said...

Your writing and descriptions of your experience is Qi-full. Thanks, Jill. -Roy

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