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Grim's Tales: Teas are all around us, seriously

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It’s Friday, and I am at one of my usual Thursday and Friday “offices.” I spend those days skipping from bakery to coffee shop to café, to restaurant or anywhere in Pine River with a wifi signal. Honestly, the wifi here is better than the Internet at our Pequot Lakes Office, so if it weren’t for the fattening effects of chai tea and sawdust rolls, I would have it made.

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I am drinking my very first pomegranate oolong tea, and it reminds me of when I didn’t care for tea at all. Nine months in China can tend to make a person more tea savvy. Big surprise.

I’m sure I tried green tea before China, but I don’t know when. I had long compared tea to hot water filtered through grass clippings. I still don’t care for iced tea, except in an Arnold Palmer, but I have warmed up to tea.

My adventures in Chinese tea began with a fairly exotic, somewhat uncommon type of tea. My friend Eva, a teacher from China, had taken me out to dinner to celebrate my arrival. She ordered us a tea made from roasted barley called maicha. Cha, in case you were curious, is Chinese for tea.

The tea tasted very much like grain, as you might imagine, but you might not expect that to be a good thing. It was actually quite pleasant. My next experience with tea, again initiated by Eva, was at a Muslim restaurant where we ordered a chrysanthemum tea.

Now, chrysanthemum tea is really pleasant, not necessarily due to the flavor, but it smelled like a field of flowers.

Perhaps the most extensive experience was our trip to Ten Fu’s Tea. I needed souvenirs for friends and family, and I knew that some of them enjoyed tea. I asked a long-time American expat, named Zeb, for suggestions. He took me, and fellow Bemidji State University grad Kirsten, to Ten Fu’s, and we drank tea for literally hours.

Tea service was free there. We could sample almost every variety of tea in the building without cost. While doing so, Zeb described the intricacies of tea and tea service. He pointed out that our server used hot water to clean and warm all of the glasses and instruments involved, and she didn’t bend her elbow when she served tea.

Zeb also described the various parts of tea sampling, including smell, mouth feel, and a sort of secondary taste that you sample by exhaling with mouth closed.

We sampled green tea, pu erh, and oolong. Pu erh is one of the oldest varieties of tea in the world, made from compressing shredded tea with binders into a brick or puck. Oolong is a specially processed tea which is sometimes mixed with a single drop of champagne. I don’t care much for the red pu erh, but the green colored oolong tea has a very strong earthy, even buttery or nutty, flavor that it is perhaps my favorite tea.

Now, I am not tea crazy. Yet, as with other consumables in life, I am now semi obsessed with harvesting my own tea ingredients. This summer I will likely be planting chrysanthemums, lavender, chamomile, and other tea flowers. I am already planning woodland outings for rose blossoms, plum blossoms, blueberry leaves, and other wild ingredients for tea. I learned last fall how to ferment wintergreen to process it for tea use, and that was simply delightful. Hopefully it only gets better from there. This might be a very interesting year indeed. Let me know if you have suggestions or want to join in, and maybe we can arrange something.

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