“Japhy got out the tea, Chinese tea, and sprinkled some in a tin pot, and had the fire going meanwhile, a small one to begin with, the sun was still on us, and stuck a long stick tight down under a few big rocks and made himself something to hang the teapot on and pretty soon the water was boiling and he poured it out steaming into the tin pot and we had cups of tea with our tin cups. … ‘Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea,’ said Japhy. ‘Remember that book I told you about the first sip is joy the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.'”
– from “The Dharma Bums”, by Jack Kerouac
Where: The Tao of Tea, 3430 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 503-736-0119
The sun beat on my back as I biked up Belmont Street. Every three minutes or so, though, it would hide again and the wind of the otherwise crisp spring afternoon would chill the sweat.
Directly across the street from an arcade theater, the Tao of Tea sells (of course) fine loose leaf teas and wares, while their restaurant offers these up to guests with a menu of vegetarian dining options.
The tea arrives first, of course. The room wraps around me like a warm blanket was the young waitress carefully pours my first cup from the small clay pot.
Pine Smoked Black is a lapsang souchong- a type of black tea that gets roasted over wood fires, in this case, pine boughs. The heady smoky aroma lingers in the tea, eliciting memories of hearths and campfires past. It reminds me of camping in the Pine Barrens with the Scouts- a warm fire, my hair and clothes rife with the smell of woodsmoke, and a sky full of stars between the towering pines and cedars.
A blissful memory for each cup.
My eyes wander as I sip my tea- there’s something else unusual about the place. In cafes in Portland, I’ve gotten used to the omnipresent click-clacking of typing while people work. You tune it out after a while, like white noise on a television set, or the hum of air conditioning.
No one was on a computer. I was the only one with my phone out. Tao of Tea has no Wifi, and few- if any- wall outlets in the dining room.
You are not supposed to be working here, or at least not staring at a screen.
Aw hell, I’ve missed the point. Screwed it up. I’m not supposed to be working on it right now. Enjoy the tea, get pictures quickly and quietly, then put it away. My phone feels like an albatross- hide it fast.
“Sulfurous tang”? Raw ginger? Such aggressiveness in such a pleasingly peaceful meal?
I could do this more- maybe instead of a few bar trips. Who couldn’t use more tea in their lives?
When: Hours are 11a – 10p daily. Mid- to late afternoons are best- the place is rarely crowded, and almost never noisy.
Why: Because you need a moment’s peace- a mini-vacation from your own worried mind, and all you want is serene simplicity.
How: Visit them in person, or for a real treat visit the Tower of Cosmic Reflections in Lan Su Garden. There is an admission price for the garden, and the tower is beholden to the gardens schedule. Visit their website at Taooftea.com to get their tea delivered anywhere in the US.