Friday March 19, 2010 | 4 comments
Seattle is, by and large, a coffee town. Home to seven independent roasteries, countless cafés, and even Starbucks, it’s easy to find excellent coffee around here. We have a passion for it. Nine months of rain and cold every year makes anyone adept at making and procuring warm beverages to take the edge off. However, on the surface, tea seems to be another matter. It’s not that Seattle has no tea culture; you just have to look a bit harder to find it. While pretty much any coffee shop will have some sort of tea offering and many will brew you up a cup using loose leaves, a real tea house experience is a bit more difficult to come by. However, situated at the top of Queen Anne in a former Tully’s and across from a popular Starbucks that has recently driven a nearby Peet’s Coffee out of business, Tea Cup stands as a shining example of what happens when you combine well-steeped passion with an extensive selection and friendly staff.
The first thing you are bound to notice about Tea Cup is how open the space is with its high ceiling and huge windows, which allow an exceptional amount of natural light into the space. The decoration is sparse, but clean, and the shop also offers a nice variety of teaware for sale. The walls are adorned with a rotating art selection and a fireplace dominates the center of the space to provide a cozy retreat in winter. Overall, the owners have created a comfortable, inviting environment for study, conversation, or just quiet reflection. The far end of the store is home to a large counter, brewing equipment, and the tea itself. The selection at Tea Cup is extensive, offering well over 100 varieties for sale by the ounce or brewed by either the cup or the pot. The staff is fantastic as well and always willing to assist customers in finding whatever it is that they are looking for, even when that means pulling ten tins off the shelves only to put nine of them right back.
Among the wide variety of teas, my current obsession is the excellent selection of oolongs. On a fine Tuesday morning, having just taken some friends to a favorite coffee shop of mine, I felt the need to unwind a little and sip through a few steepings. Brett, the shop’s manager, brought forth several wonderful oolongs of both oxidized and green varieties for me to smell as well as a wealth of information about each tea and its characteristics. We opted for the Alishan High Mountain, an exceptionally fresh, unoxidized Taiwanese oolong.
Alishan High Mountain is grown on the misty upper slopes of Taiwan’s Mount Ali and exhibits some very nice characteristics. The liqueur of the Alishan is a rich gold, which deepens through the first several steepings. The tea is very smooth with a sweet finish and grassy, fresh-tasting overtones. I also detected some pleasingly subtle floral notes in the first steeping, but failed to notice them later in the cycle. The second and third steepings yielded an even darker liqueur and an increased sweetness while maintaining the same smooth texture as before. In addition to the Alishan, I have also had the opportunity to sample the Bai Hao oolong, a heavily oxidized variety that behaves like a cross between an oolong and a black tea in many respects. A new favorite of mine is their house chai made with organic black tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, and black pepper. I have yet to find a tea here that I have been unhappy with.
In short, Tea Cup is hard to beat. The store has an excellent selection of teas to choose from, a friendly and knowledgeable staff, and an inviting atmosphere in which to stop for a quick loose leaf to go, a pot of your favorite oolong, or some of the best iced tea in town in the summer. If you find yourself looking for a place like this, you can find them at 2128 Queen Anne Avenue N here in Seattle or online at www.seattleteacup.com. I’d love to sit and talk tea some time.
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