The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2016

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Page 69 of 124

december 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  69 It was that journey that led Luong to where he is now, running a boutique tea company that sources only the high- est quality tea he can find on his multiple trips to China and Taiwan each year. Step into Song Tea and you'll find yourself in the midst of a meditation on simplicity and beauty. Bright natural light filters through large streetside windows, where the minimalist design is focused on tea and the tools of its enjoyment. Peter has an eye for beauty, as evidenced in the small-production ceramics that he brings in from artists around the world. You won't find any American-sized teapots here; believing that smaller is better, the largest he sources hold just 350 mil- liliters. Traditionally, tea is meant to be consumed piping hot and perfectly brewed each time. These petite teapots ensure an even brew and require that you use a fresh batch of hot water each time. The ceremony of multiple brewings brings a mindfulness of the changes in flavor that occur with each steeping, and how a batch of leaves can evolve with each sip. There are many levels of ritual that you can incorporate into a tea service, from the casual to the ceremonial. Luong estimates that the tea tastings at Song are approximately 80 percent formal. But as an avid tea drinker, he doesn't believe there should be any rules to tea: "One of the most interest- ing things about tea is that there are fewer rules for how it should be enjoyed and appreciated—so much less so than what goes into coffee. When you look at any beverage, there are various levels of how you choose to engage with it." Each type of tea has certain marks of quality that should be assessed, he says: "The best way to think about it is to break it down into specific tea types. The criteria for evaluat- ing quality has a lot to do with the specific tea. For green tea, you want clean, sweet and lacking in astringency; that cotton-mouth feel that one might expect from green tea is because what is out there is teabag tea. Green tea isn't meant to be strong. For oolong teas, you want texture, good taste, complexity and a lot going on beyond that initial sip. It should finish very, very long. It doesn't need to be a strong finish, but have a lingering taste." In addition, the flavors we have associated with black teas are all wrong, says Peter: "For black tea—what we call red tea, not the English-style tea that requires milk or sugar, but traditional black teas that have been fully oxidized—you will sense a jammy character- istic, a fruit-forward nose that smells sweet and ripe. You also always want to look at the leaves, what condition they are in, how consistently sized they are." When reading the tea leaves left after brewing, you'll notice the leaves from Peter and his farmers are pristine and relatively undamaged, a sign of the care given at every step of the way. Oolong pearls unfurl into gorgeous lush limbs, and green teas are so vibrant they seem ready to hop back into nature where their journey began. It's easy to tell that enjoyment of this product and the mindfulness it instills were a top priority as the tea traveled thousands of miles to steep in your cup. It's easy to get lost in conversation with the complex flavors and aromas lifting your tea experience out of the ordinary and into the unique. Peter was careful to name his company Song after one of the best-known Chinese dynasties for innovations in art, culture and technology—a nod to the artistry he and his producers honor with each cup. You can also experience Song teas at the likes of Four Barrel Coffee, Ritual Roasters, Octavia and Mr. Jiu's, to name just a few familiar spots in San Francisco. Song's roster of clients continues to grow monthly, and it seems that this modest shop is poised to cre- ate quite a strong name for itself with the savvy consumers in this specialized but ever-widening market. Opened whole leaves from Lishan Orchid; high-mountain oolongs from Taiwan are hand-picked with first, second and third leaves. Vase from Yang Guo Bing; mineral tea bowl from Liao Guo Hua. The 100-gram vacuum-packed bricks are a tea called "Mr. + Mrs. Chen's Oolong." Wood-fired teapot and cups by Zhang Yun Cheng; serv- ing vessel by Lilith Rockett. Tea towel by Cotton+Flax. n n n

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