Tea – one of my happy places – recently took me on an unexpected journey.
It started with champagne.
Per my birthday bucket list, I indulged in champagne for the first time. Went to a wine store and got three minis, so like my failed experiments with tofu, I could say I tried to love it.
Over the course of a month, I paired champagne with jambalaya, oysters and chocolate-covered strawberries, and can I just say, “meh”?
Except for the bottle of Stanford Brut Governor’s Cuvee, which took me three weeks to get to because I had to recover from the disappointment of the first two boring mini bottles.
What got me thinking about special-occasion tea in the first place?
I felt deficient toasting with sparkling water. Now, I don’t understand the champagne hype beyond the bubbles. One, it’s dry. Two, it’s relatively uninteresting until you couple it with something sensational. A drink should shine on its own.
Now tea, on the other hand, has rarely let me down. So, I switched gears to a special-occasion tea. First, since I have a lot of tea and it’s good to shop at home, I rifled through my tea pantry.
Yes, I have a tea pantry because why wouldn’t I?
Tea is my thing.
I can’t tell you why oolong, matcha, aged pu-erh tea cakes, and blooming jasmine flowers didn’t rank superior enough, but I never really need a valid excuse to buy tea.
As I trekked to a local tea spot near work, I couldn’t help but drift nostalgically through my love affair with tea. From that first taste as a teenager, which I’m pretty sure involved a Lipton tea bag, to those loose green and white teas in my twenties, to crafting my own blends in my thirties and eventually linking teas with seasons and moods, it has brought so much joy.
Since Mom said I never liked cold drinks, was repulsed by the taste and electrocution of coffee, and I find comfort in ritual, I was probably always going to be a tea drinker, plus the kind of hopefully foolish customer who causes coffee shop barista’s eyebrows to quirk when I ask for High Mountain Oolong with rose petals, which is perhaps, my favorite blend.
I want what I want.
A good drink (of whatever) should take me on a journey, elevating the senses, favorably altering reality for a little bit. I should want more time with it.
I had all of this in mind when I entered the tea shop and posed the question, “What’s your best oolong?”
You may have guessed by my willingness to request a specialty oolong at random coffee shops that this is the tea that really does it for me. It has such an interesting flavor that unfolds differently with each brew, without losing the heart of its tenacious personality.
Trying not to notice that the shop employee’s outfit was giving me peasant girl-rocker, but letting it quietly amused me nevertheless, I heard her ask what I’d already tried. Surprisingly, three-fourths of their oolong selection, I replied. She ran with that, asking which ones I liked best.
I said High Mountain Oolong (of course) for its unique taste and floral notes and Coconut Pouchong for its sweet, creamy finish and floral undertones, wondering exactly when I, after a youth raised in a humble housing project, became a tea connoisseur. Especially when the shop employee recommended a few new teas that sounded mediocre.
Am I a tea master? Nope. But I like what I like.
Suddenly one on the top shelf labeled Phoenix Mountain Oolong – Honey Orchid caught my eye. What a scrumptious name, right? I guarantee I would probably be tempted to buy anything from bed linens to lipstick if it had this name.
It was $25 an ounce which is double what I usually pay for primo loose tea and it should have struck me as crazy, but, instead I was so intrigued by the idea of a special-occasion tea that I figured it should cost more. Plus, Inflation, shipping delays and China’s COVID-lockdown.
I’m fiscally responsible, but I’m not cheap, especially when it comes to quality food, drink and nutritional supplements, all of which I consider tea to be. It’s laughable that I poo-poo designer clothing, yet am apparently okay with designer tea.
Also, I’m a sucker for a great story and the employee did not disappoint.
Here’s what she told me:
The best tea never leaves China. Some of it is commissioned and paid for before it’s even planted and harvested. It’s grown in small batches in tea groves with optimal conditions, care and frequent monitoring. It’s uniquely crafted for a one-of-a-kind artisan taste.
It also sings, dances and reverses aging.
This was the day I discovered an ounce of premium tea could cost more than three mini bottles of champagne, even if it wasn’t the best stuff that never left China.
This was the day I thought it was worth it.
I walked back to my office, clutching my tiny tea treasure with glimmers of glee that defied the rainy day.
In the work kitchen, I briefly considered brewing a cup for a colleague, but I had to gauge whether this was a $25-an-ounce colleague and decided not.
I gathered a teaspoon of precious tea leaves into my strainer, slowly poured in hot water, mesmerized by the beautiful brandy color filling my cup. The aroma quietly wafted up, tickling my nose with its beautiful bouquet reminiscent of lilies.
I took that first sip pure before playing with drops of monk fruit sweetener.
It was enchanting and memorable, yet playful. Like a carefree summer stroll through a famous tea culture city like Huangshan, China wearing a flowy chartreuse dress on the 2nd day of a 10-day vacation.
Maybe you were waiting for me to say, I tucked the Phoenix Mountain Oolong – Honey Orchid tea into the recesses of my tea pantry for the next special occasion or toast. Nah. I drank two cups every day until it was gone.
Lesson learned: Don’t leave special things for special moments. Make moments special by bringing special things to them whenever, wherever.