A Tea Ceremony in Queens, New York
Walking the crowded streets of Flushing, Queens can make even the most patient person weep in frustration. My suggestion is to take the 7 train to Main Street make your way through the throngs of people and head to Fang Gourmet Tea on Roosevelt Avenue. The unassuming store specializes in rare and expensive teas. You can choose from a menu of dozens of teas to sample, each costing $5 or $10 dollars. The tea samples are prepared using traditional Chinese methods. The whole process from brewing to drinking takes 20 minutes. The calm and serene environment is just as important as the teas themselves since so much of the experience at Fang Gourmet is about relaxing and savoring the flavor of what you are drinking.
Our guide starts out by gathering the essential tools to brew my two samples, Soothing Lai Bai black tea and Premium Yunnan Large-Leaf red tea. The two teas will be sampled separately. She arranges two porcelain cups, a lidded jar called a gaiwan, a decanter and a waste bowl. First the gaiwan is heated with hot water, then it's emptied into the decanter and, finally, the cups.
Second, the loose tea is properly portioned onto a small wooden shovel and I’m instructed to smell the leaves by passing them under my nose. The leaves are placed in the gaiwan and hot water is poured over them for the first rinse. The purpose of rinsing is to clean the tea of any impurities. The water is poured out and fresh hot water is poured over the rinsed tea. Once brewed the tea is poured into the decanter using the lid to strain out the tea leaves. The tea can be seeped multiple times until it becomes lighter in color or has lost its flavor. For my demonstration each sample will be seeped five times. The goal is to produce a pure and clean flavor.
Fang Gourmet is serious about tea. Each element of the brewing process is necessary to bring out the best in flavor. Patience and practice will yield the best cup and when cost can hit the hundreds for a few ounces you might want an expert to show you exactly how it should be done.
NYC-based tea blogger Jennifer Brosnan is a contributor to TravelandLeisure.com.