Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hidden Peak Teahouse: In which we write the review afterwards, because you aren't allowed to while you're there

This is a guest post from Laralyn, a new contributor here at Built from Ink and Tea! She and I experienced Hidden Peak together, and here she describes the setting beautifully:

If you happen to be a lover of tea and well-furnished spaces, and if you happen to find yourself in Downtown Santa Cruz, the very first place you should spend some quality time is Hidden Peak Teahouse. I had the pleasure of visiting this incredibly beautiful and relaxing shop for the second time recently, and my second impression was even better than the first.

With both indoor and outdoor seating, the Gong Fu tea room is a haven for tea-lovers and peace-seekers who need someplace to unwind. If you decide to stop by, you can expect to be greeted warmly but very calmly, quietly, and somewhat formally by a member of the staff. They will ask if you've visited before, and will explain a few unique things about the teahouse if you're new. They serve Chinese tea, primarily in the Gong Fu ceremonial style; they have a small menu of light snacks; and the teahouse is digital-free. The no-devices policy is a blessing. It's very difficult, especially in the Bay Area, to find anyplace where having your phone out or asking about the Wi-Fi password is verboten. The ambiance of the teahouse is nearly sacred. This is a place where your soul can take a deep breath and expand. If you want to engage in something beyond silence or simple conversation, there are shelves of books and games to borrow during your stay. The most prominent sounds are clay teaware clicking against hardwood and water coming to a boil.

The employees of the teahouse move around silently and respectfully, hardly interrupting whatever reverie you find yourself lost in. They will help you select a high-quality, seasonal, and single-origin Chinese tea, as well as the preparation method. They offer tea served Gong Fu style, brewed in a pot or gaiwan, or a steeped in a glass (without a strainer or basket, allowing you to watch the leaves unfurl).

The hot water is placed in a large, vintage, Thermos-like container, and next to your table will be your electric kettle. Every table is topped with a unique Gong Fu draining tray, and all of the furniture in the tea room is vintage or antique Chinese. Every chair, table, tea tool, and piece of artwork shines with a patina of long and affectionate use.

Hidden Peak's storefront retail area offers a myriad of teaware options, mostly focused around Gong Fu tea service, but styles and tea cultures other than Chinese are also represented.

It's important to mention that the quality of tea available to drink or purchase at Hidden Peak is very good. Their least expensive pu-erh far outshines the top-shelf options from many other tea retailers. We chose two shou pu-erh teas, Lincang Old Tree 2008 and Tengchong Mt "0549" 2007, and loved them both. We also tried and enjoyed their tea glass tea option, which on that day was Damo, a Yunnan green. We were told that the owners source the tea themselves, and work directly with the tea growers in China to choose the best selection, and they certainly succeed.

We spent two or three timeless hours drinking tea, nibbling on raw vegan finger foods, and simply being present. When we left, I felt renewed.

There is much more I could say about Hidden Peak, but it's best if you just go there yourself. Their website will provide you with their tea and food menus, events schedule, blog, and the history of the Teahouse.

Due to the no-devices policy, we could not take pictures, but Hidden Peak's website features some excellent photography on their "Tea House" page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Runa's Traditional Guayusa

We are back!

Fueled by the power of tea (and maybe a bit of sleep), we have returned to our regularly-scheduled content, plus some new content, as we ramp up toward the 2017 SF Pen, August 25-27! (Click here for more details.)

This week's review covers a type of caffeinated "tea" that has not been previously featured on Built from Ink and Tea - guayusa. Guayusa, a plant native to South America, is closely related to mate and yaupon (all three are types of holly trees). Not strictly tea in the sense that it is not from the camellia sinensis plant, guayusa nonetheless has a lengthy history of use in making medicinal infusions in hot water and being consumed for its stimulating effects. What I am drinking this week is traditional, unflavored guayusa by Runa, a brand who is doing much to promote the benefits and consumption of this plant.

I used my Adagio TriniTEA to brew four cups, using a teaspoon of guayusa per cup, steeping for five minutes. The resulting infusion provided a nice dark color, like a roasted oolong's steeping would. The aromas from the brewed guayusa are deep and earthy. Unlike the earthy aromas of a pu'erh, these are more green and woody. The aroma reminds me of a deeply-intense version of the smell of some wood or underbrush. If one could concentrate the smell of a vine or non-floral plant, it might be close to the aroma of this traditional guayusa. The aroma contains a lot of "green."

My first sip contains so many different flavors. I notice first a slight bitterness on the edges of the flavor. Not heavy, it is a light bitterness akin to slight tannin in black tea. Next, the flavors of the main body arrive with bold notes that are verging on being rich, if they were not so green. And green they are, carrying green flavors throughout, albeit with roasted notes, akin to a roasted green tea. Third, an interesting sweetness lays in the undertone of the drink. It is very faint, yet even in the aftertaste, there is a sweet aspect to the roasted green flavor.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first experience drinking guayusa. It reminds me of mate and yaupon (probably more the latter) and for good reason, given their relationship. I highly recommend giving Runa's guayusa a try, and it conveniently comes packaged in both teabags and loose leaf formats. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate Runa's traditional guayusa a 5. I will definitely be purchasing more, when I finish this container!

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Runa Traditional Guayusa is available from their website, here.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2017, Built from Ink and Tea.