Tea is a drink that can be found all over the world. From earthy mate in South America to the delicate green tea of Japan. It has developed over the years into many different kinds and flavors. If you go into the grocery store you can find often times a whole aisle to a good portion of one dedicated to the variety. However, you can’t find the premium taste that comes with tea in a tiny tea bag. Why? Well, it goes back to how to extract the best flavors of the tea.
Many places that produce tea have a specialized manor of extracting tea that requires water being the right temperature, how much water, how many times can you use the leaves, and so much more. Ceremonies and services have been developed over this drink and the perfect art of drinking it. If you are just using a tea bag, you are missing part of these techniques and tools to the best drink. Since tea comes in so many varieties, I decided to learn more about one tradition with tea. Since I was in San Francisco with some of the greatest diverse and historic neighborhoods made up of immigrants, I decided to travel to Chinatown to talk to an expert and see what made their tea so special. So here is my dive into Vital Tea Leaf to learn more about the Chinese art of making tea during one of their tea services.
When you walk down Chinatown, you are blasted with the bright colors packed on top of each other and bodies trying to glide beside each other on the compact streets. The street art allows you to pause and admire away from the shuffle of people around you. Just look closely between the bright colors and busy street filled with some very cliché tourist shops to find this tucked away gem. Once you step through their doorway, you are greeted by a long tabletop counter with the traditional trays for tea ceremonies every couple of seats. Each tray holds all the specialized tea making tools one could ask for. Opposite of the tabletop bar is rows upon rows of jars filled to the brim with different teas along with beautiful set of tea cups and tools. After greeting the smiling store owners, I asked about their tea service and if I can participate and learn. They sat me down at the long tabletop and began their fluid movements of prepping for the service.
You can clearly see their expertise by their movements as their hands do not shake or hesitate in their preparation. Once they have finished with their final preparations, they ready for your lesson to begin. It is a fun hour filled with tasty samples of some of their best teas. They guide you through the variety of white, green, black and red teas that they carry. They give you preparation instructions along with the potential health benefits that one could expect from drinking about 3 cups of the variety of tea since many avid tea drinkers believe in the health benefits that tea can provide. For example, oolong tea, which is a mix of black and green tea, is good for concentration needs to be steeped in 190 degree water, which your electric tea kettle may struggle to reach. (Tip if your tea kettle doesn’t reach a high enough water temp stick your mug in the microwave on intervals of 30 secs to boost temp) It was fun to listen to their expert explain the cultivation of each type but why they are produced a certain way since some loose leaves come in a cake formate. She add perfectly timed jokes and entertained you with stories between what can be a pretty long and boring tasting session. She helps you identify the flavors that the techniques release from the leaves and what tea may suite you best. By the time you have finished the service, you are more than happy to depart with a new variety of tea leaves to make at home.
I found Vital Tea Leaf to not only the expert to teach me about Chinese style of tea drinking but with knowledge for my tea drinking in general. I highly recommend that you slip into Vital Tea Leaf when you are looking for your next tea or need a little pick me up. You won’t be disappointed.