Tea and Travel

As you may be aware, the last year and a bit have been unusual. But recently, I received my second vaccine dose and not long after that, my job decided that it was time for me to start traveling for work again. What you may not know is that I actually haven’t traveled for work in almost three years, since I was pregnant, because I didn’t travel for the first year of Elliot’s life, and once I was ready to consider it again, we were plunged into isolation. So last week, I found myself back on a plane and plopped down in a new city.

And of course, I cannot travel without having a plan for my tea. Now, I love my travel gongfu set, but because I was visiting Austin, TX, I knew I could forgo a lot of equipment in favor of some simple grandpa-style brewing and teas that work well for that. Of course, if I needed a gongfucha fix, I could visit West China Tea House.

This gets at the heart of my travel philosophy: travel to the place you are going. You aren’t going to need all things for all places. If I were going to a small resort in the mountains of New England, I might prioritize different things, but going to a city where I knew there was a world-class tea house, I knew I could save space in my bag (I travel exclusively with carry-on) and focus on quick, everyday tea that wouldn’t immediately brand me as high maintenance or eccentric in my professional life. Well, at least not more eccentric…

My favorite travel brewing method is grandpa style because you just pop the tea in your vessel, add water, and go. I can use my trusty 16-oz. thermal flask that also doubles as a water bottle. And my favorite teas for brewing grandpa style are teas that don’t become unpleasantly bitter when steeped for a very long time, and teas that are large-leaf or rolled, like rolled oolongs or pearl teas. So this time, I brought my beloved Black Dragon Pearls from The Steeped Leaf, as well as a 10g sample of Pear Mountain oolong from Mountain Stream teas. I love samples for travel because they don’t take up space, I feel free to share them with interested colleagues, and I can usually finish the whole packet on my trip so they don’t take up space on the way back.

All I need at my hotel or room is a source of hot water. I try to choose teas that are not fussy about water temperature, so that I can plunk some tea into my vessel, add water, and go. In a room with a kitchenette or a shared apartment or house, I can relax with a mug and watch the leaves unfurl, but on a busy morning, I can go straight into my travel flask and be ready for my day.

If I’m going somewhere with good examples of tea culture — like when I visited Tetere in Barcelona three years ago — I try to look at my schedule and at least roughly plan when I might be able to visit the tea house during my trip. This trip, I was lucky to have two opportunities to visit West China Tea House: once with a fried as a sort of spur-of-the-moment decision, and once again on my own over the weekend. Of course, those visits deserve their own post, so watch for that this week. But exploring tea culture in the cities I visit is a wonderful way to connect with places I might not be visiting entirely by choice, but by necessity, and also scratch my tea itches. And sometimes, an enthusiastic tea artist introduces you to the most amazing aged oolong you’ve ever had…

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