Jan '08 Issue

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Tea Girl Survives Coffee Town

By Cynthia Fazekas


In early November, I had the opportunity to visit Seattle, Washington. Like many "Back Easters", my main concept of Seattle was of it being the birthplace of Starbucks and its coffee association. In fact, our mission there would be to exhibit at Coffeefest - a trade show for roasters, baristas and the like - to try and brew up (sorry!) business with coffee shop owners.

Of course, I must admit that I had more than an inkling that Seattle had much more to offer than met the mainstream eye. I knew of several thriving tea businesses and thanks to the Food Network, of several acclaimed restaurants. Great food and tea? Yup, this works for me!

Toward the end of the first day of the trade show a touch of jet lag started to catch up, not to mention the pungent coffee aromas had assaulted my tender, tea taster olfactory senses. I like the smell of coffee, but not all day long. Fortunately, my heroes were on the way. Once packed up, I met with Elisabeth Knottingham, owner of Teacup in the Queen Ann section of Seattle and her ready and able sidekick Alan. They whisked me away through downtown Seattle past the famous Elephant Car Wash sign, through traffic and up to Queen Ann. We parked just down from Teacup, where I was able to see the sign in person for the first time. The Food Network had aired some footage of Café Ladro, which is right next to Teacup, and therefore had caught a glimpse of it in the background. Seeing the shop in person was exciting as I had known of Teacup for some time and had always wanted to visit! Plus I always get a goosebumpy feeling when I see something in person that had previously only heard of, read about, or seen on TV.

Once inside, I was taking in the wall of tea wares and snapping pictures, when my hosts began presenting me with various large tins of lovely teas to choose from. I gravitated toward their Wen Shan Baozhong, which released a sweet floral aroma from the container. We sat at a table where ginger cookies were brought to my rescue as was a perfectly brewed first infusion pot of the baozhong. Oh my! It was delightful and oh so complex. My hosts re-infused several times while we chatted so no nuance would be wasted. In no time at all, I was feeling human (and a little spoiled!)

As a wave of customers came in and filled the small but well-stocked shop, my hosts led me outside and down the block. We came to a corner that could easily be "ground zero" for the coffee crowd. Three of the four corners had different (famous) coffee shops. I contemplated for a moment the future of tea, and took a long deep breath. Would we see the day with multiple tea vendors with in feet of each other? If I were a coffee drinker, would I be happy or confused right now? I decided on "happy as a clam at high tide."

After walking the neighborhood for a bit, we returned to the car and went to dinner. The food in Seattle is amazing. It seemed that everything about this city is a step above.

The next morning, Elisabeth and Alan returned as tour guides. My west coast counterpart, Angela Justice, joined us as our hosts took us to the Crumpet Shop in Pike Place Market for breakfast. Oh my! The shop is small, but the crumpets hand made and the best I have had. For those of you who are not familiar with crumpets, they are somewhere between and un-flipped pancake (but thoroughly cooked) and an English muffin. They are not frou-frou, although they have that proper "tea and crumpets" image. You can get them many ways. Simply with butter or, as I did, nicely appointed with ham, egg and tomato.

Just when I thought I could not be happier, my eyes happened upon a large cat painted on the wall with the words, "he tea is out of the bag." The cat looked quite adamant about this. Sure enough, there were several hot pots with freshly brewed high quality loose-leaf teas. I chose the Crumpet Shop blend as recommended by Elisabeth and was even more delighted by a pitcher of soy milk to use as creamer. My early tea consumption was always in the traditional milk and sugar style, and while most of my cups are unadulterated, that very first cup of the day is still preferred "old school." (The necessity for soy came later due to dietary sensitivities and is now also a preference. It is still rare to find soy milk offerings back east.) As I returned to our table with my completely customized cup of tea, another size made me smile. "Unlimited Tea Refills."Under it was a smaller notice about Makaibari First Flush. "Whoa," I thought, "This is my kind of town."

Post breakfast, we headed down to Pike Place Market and looked at the gorgeous bounty of local produce, seafood and other specialty food products. The variety and freshness was truly amazing. Oh, the produce! If not for the crumpets, I could have easily eaten my way through the market.

Our hosts then topped off a perfect morning with a visit to Olympic Sculpture Park. Among other works, we saw a stainless steel tree, a giant wheel eraser, and the Richard Serra work, "Wake." Walking through the piece makes one think of mini steam ships on the ocean. The park also boasts a breathtaking view of Puget Sound, the bluish grey sky mirrored by the water on this particular day.

It was time to get back to the convention center, but I was already head over heels and full - both in body and spirit. Seattle has much to offer and we had only scratched the surface. Besides my beloved Teacup and Crumpet Shop, there are many other places to get great tea there. A visit to TeaMap's Washington listing will surely be helpful. If you go, be sure to visit the Fremont Troll. My picture of him did not come out, but he's there, under the bridge and I think he likes tea with his Volkswagen snacks.

Visit www.teamap.com for more teahouses in Washington State.