Today on Tea Together Tuesday, a delightful community tea prompt hosted by Tea with Jann and Tea is a Wish, the question is “What is your favorite tea company and what was the first tea you had from them?” And, of course, I’m putting my own spin on things. I had to think long and hard about this one because I love so many tea companies and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I’d obviously prefer not to play favorites. But in the interest of playing along with the prompt, I thought I would talk about my favorite tea business, one that has been with me the longest in my tea journey: Teaism.
I honestly don’t remember when I first went to Teaism. Looking at their history, it looks like they opened in 1996, and I distinctly remember going there when I was in college and home for the summers. But I also remember that those were not my first visits to the tea house, so I likely have been patronizing Teaism nearly as long as they’ve been open. As far as the first tea I tried there, it was probably Dragonwell or Moroccan Mint, but the first tea that I have a distinct memory of trying was their Anxi oolong, which is a type of Mao Xie, or “hairy crab,” which they’ve chosen to label as simple “Anxi” on their menu to avoid confusion and laughing. The Anxi oolong is a lightly oxidized, rolled oolong, with that light, floral-creamy flavor that I associated with oolongs for a long time (before I realized that I’ve been drinking Wuyi oolong practically since birth at our favorite Chinese restaurant!). I had it when I went downtown on a weekend morning to visit some museums and wanted to have a bit of breakfast first, so I stopped at Teaism.
At the time, I was living in Prince George’s County, MD, and the green line that took me down to Pennsylvania Ave., which is a short walk from the National Mall, takes me right next to the Penn Quarter location of Teaism. I ordered a waffle and a pot of tea and took both down into their very quiet downstairs dining area, where I could enjoy the ambiance and watch the koi in their indoor pond. I’ve always loved koi, and watching them reminds me of my childhood.
But I’ve had so many teas and so much delicious food at Teaism over the years. It has been the site of dates and interviews, as well as quiet moments by myself. I’ve always loved eating in cafes and restaurants by myself, and the particular atmosphere at Teaism makes it even more enjoyable. I think my favorite is to sit near a window in the somewhat crowded, but paradoxically private upstairs room at the Dupont Circle location with a pot of tea, gazing out the window at the city below, alone with my thoughts, yet in a room full of people.
When I got my job in downtown DC, after years of working in the suburbs, Teaism was a familiar face in a new routine. On mornings when I was rushed or slept late or simply didn’t feel like making my own breakfast, I would stop for breakfast and some tea. They always treat their teas with care, whether you are sipping in the restaurant or taking it to go, your paper cup containing hot water and a little dumpling of tea leaves that plump up in the water as they expand to fill the hand-filled bag. I’ve even taken these leaves and had a second tea session in my gaiwan at the office after my walk!
Sadly, as a restaurant, they are feeling the pain of virus-related closures and disruptions. Their owner, Michelle, has been active on Instagram, highlighting her own daily tea practice, as well as keeping us informed about online orders and how they’re trying to support their employees. So recently, I decided to place a small order of some Japanese teas from them. Because I missed my trip to Yame, I decided to get some gyokuro.
And the other morning, I just felt off. So I brewed up a shiboridashi full of gyokuro and went out to my garden to gather roses. I sat and sipped an intensely calming cup of green tea while I processed roses to arrange. And at the end of it, I had a beautiful little arrangement and an uplifted spirit from this little moment of calm and beauty in my day, just like I used to feel from visiting the Teaism shop. I’ve had limited experience with gyokuro, but this one was a beautiful balance of umami, brightness, and a bitterness that melted into sweetness in the mouth.
If you feel like supporting Teaism, please consider shopping at their online store or contributing to their employee relief fund. Also, consider adding cilantro, scallions, and ginger to your scrambled eggs, like they do. It’s amazing.
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