Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Culture of Tea at Teance

I spent Friday night at Teance, the fancy tea store in the Fourth Street shopping district in Berkeley. I've walked into the store in the past, but always felt like a kid in a museum store. Everything is so perfectly lit and the room is so quiet like a museum, that I felt very intimidated shopping there. Not to mention that they charge premium prices for their premium tea.

So to conquer my fear of shopping at Teance, I signed up for one of its weekly Friday night tea classes. I figured the more I knew about their tea, the more comfortable I'll feel asking questions while shopping. Their classes start at 7 p.m. and typically lasts an hour. (For some reason, my class, which was smaller than usual, lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes. Friday night PAR-tee!)
The centerpiece of Teance has got to be the tea bar, beautifully designed by one of the owners. Teance used to have a tea room in Albany and moved into their current Fourth Street location earlier this year. This is the view of the tea bar from the second floor, which is used for special events and for the weekly class.
The class is mostly a lecture by two of Teance's employees. On this Friday night, the topic was Oolong (pronounced "ooh lung" in Cantonese and "wu lung" in Mandarin). I always thought Oolong was a Chinese black tea, because it was always so dark when my mom drank it at Chinese restaurants. But I learned that Oolong is neither green or black tea, but is a category all its own because of its many varieties. Oolong is primarily produced in China and Taiwan. In Chinese, it means "black dragon."

BTW, the class is primarily attended by women. And even though it skews toward older women, it's a nice place for guys to meet women. (Our lecturers were young, friendly and pretty. I'm just saying.)
After learning all about Oolong upstairs in the class, we went downstairs to the tea bar to finally taste some varieties of Oolong. I have to say this is the highlight of the class. Above is the Monkey Picked Tikuanyin Medium Roast. (Tikuanyin is another tea my mom loved. It's named after a female buddha known as the Iron goddess.)
Drinking tea is such a show. It's a real ceremony in many cultures, especially in Japan. Above, our tea preparer sets up porcelain tasting glasses. Having smaller glasses allowed us to try different infusions of the tea. (Premium tea can be used to make several pots of tea, and each put, or infusion, are slightly different from the other as the tea opens up in flavor.) What was interesting was the tall glass in the back. It's actually a sniffer and is used to capture the essence of the tea so you can smell it before tasting. Cool, just like wine.
This is how the sniffer worked. The tea preparer poured the tea into the sniffer, covered it with the small tea cup, and then flipped it over and presented it to us. We twisted it to release the tea, which fell into the tea cup below. Then we could sniff the tea in the sniffer.
Here's the tea after being released from the sniffer. I'm glad I didn't make a mess.
Quality tea leaves are full, and you can tell how fancy your tea leaves are by watching it unfurl after you've used them. Above, they showed us our tea to see how it unfurled after being used.
The tea preparer uses a tiny gourd with a small net circle on the bottom, using it as a screen to pour the tea into the decanter without getting any leaves into our drinks. The gourd is made by Buddhist monks. (Because, you know, they have lots of time on their hands.)
Here are more varieties of Oolong tea. The one of the left is called "Baochong" which is very much like green tea and very light. I forgot what the one on the right is. I'm a bad student.

The class was fun, and Teance has an extensive menu of weekly topics. The class costs $12 and you get a 10 percent discount on products that you buy after the class. (Yes, I left with a bag of stuff, spending $60.)

One note about signing up for the class, it's easier to sign up at the store or by calling on the phone. Don't bother sending an email because they don't seem to respond as quickly, and they end up telling you to call to reserve a space with a credit card anyway.

After the class, I have a new-found interest in Oolong tea. Teance is also a little less intimidating to me, although it's still pricey. Teance specializes in tea from China and Taiwan, and have a wide assortment of beautiful tea paraphernalia.

So sign up for a tea class. It's a soothing way to spend a Friday night.

Teance, 1780 Fourth St., Berkeley. Open Monday-Thursday, Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 510.524.2832 to sign up for classes.


Passionate Eater said...

You always teach me so much about quality tea, I think that you would be the best tea instructor! You could make a lot of profit by having tea time with the Single Guy! :)

Single Guy Ben said...

Oh no, another blog idea! I'll start a tea blog after you start an NBA playoffs blog ;P

Thanks PE. I'm glad you're learning something about my favorite drink!