Wednesday, August 29, 2007

All the Tea in China

Clearly, I have been absent for a while. Two weeks with a sinus infection explains only two weeks of my absence. What then of the other two? Well, before I was ill, Phil and I spent the entire week celebrating his birthday.

Given the fact that we are in a foreign land and without our family and friends, I thought it would be good to do something to make this celebration special. Taking a page from our friends Will and Jen’s book (thanks guys); I informed Phil on “day one” that we would be celebrating his birthday for the entire week. He didn't seem to mind, so I was off to planning.

There are a few rules to the “birthday week”. Rule one, and probably most important, is that the birthday person, enjoys veto power. Said birthday boy or girl gets to decide where to eat, what to eat, and what to do. It’s no surprise that Phil was in favor of this idea. To start each day Phil had a little gift waiting for him before he went to work. The first day, he got the new Harry Potter book (we were done with the whole 759 pages in one week!). Another day, he got a collection of rather hard to find M&M products made in the U.S. (ahh, what you take for granted until it's gone). On the Friday of his birthday week, we went to a concert, and I have to say, going to that concert restored my faith in a decent music scene in Shanghai (I will try to include a video I took on my phone). The big day, however, was on Saturday. After opening his gift, a book called, “All the Tea in China”, I informed Phil that I had arranged for a “tea expert” to take us for a day of tea drinking.

This is the part I was most excited about. I had been wracking my brain, trying to figure out what to do for Phil to make his birthday really memorable. Knowing how much he loves tea, I wanted to find a way for us to take part in traditional tea drinking, learn about Chinese teas, and have it all done in English. This was proving to be a bit difficult, until I came across an ad online for someone who did, among other things-"tea tours". After a week or so, I heard back from the person, and long story short- I arranged for this "tea expert" named Brenton to meet with us.

After meeting at a halfway point, we headed off to a park in the area. When we arrived at Guilin Park, we were greeted by a beautiful traditional style Chinese garden, with well groomed walkways, ancient looking structures, and not another foreigner in sight.(For pictures of our tea adventure check out the photo album link to the right and check out the album titled tea.) We eventually made our way to a restaurant/ tea house where we were able to sit and enjoy all of the tea Brenton had brought with him. We were accompanied by what I will refer to as a “tea girl”. The “tea girl” is a lovely young woman who sits at a small table off to the side of the main table and carries out the traditional ritual of pouring and serving tea.

All of the elements were in place for a great day of tea drinking. Here we were in a beautiful traditional style garden, in a very nice tea house, accompanied by a man who knows his tea, and a pleasant young woman eager to pour and serve tea in the traditional style. We sat and drank tea for hours. We learned all about different teas: green tea, oolong tea, red oolong tea, longjin tea, etc. I think we tasted approximately 10 different teas, comparing the different grades, tastes and scents. Half way through, I felt like I was at a wine tasting event. After great care and very meticulously timing each steep, we would flip a longer snifter cup over into a regular tea cup and begin smelling the snifter cup, examining and identifying all of the different aromas in the tea. We would then take three “slurps” finishing off the tea, comparing how each slurp tasted different from the other. This style of tea drinking is call kung fu style. No seriously. And you know those teeny tiny little cups you see and think, “Who drinks out of something the size of a thimble? Clearly, those are for decoration.” Well, they’re not! You really do drink out of those cups. All in all the day was full of great information and really tasty tea.

Five hours after our tea journey began, drunk on oolong tea, we were parting ways with Brenton and off to find some much needed food and massages.


Josh said...

awesome. happy birthday sir.

The Will said...

Yea! I bet you guys are loving your new expertise! That is a great birthday present Jen! I'm sure Phil loved it.