A tour of Ballard's tea shops begins at Miro Tea on Ballard Avenue. CLICK IMAGE FOR MORE PHOTOS.
101 Things To Do In Ballard: Tour de tea
With so many changes in Ballard these days, you’re more likely to find an Asian-style teahouse here than Scandinavian lutefisk or lefsa.
Interest in tea is surging, and we're fortunate to have several exceptional spots to relax and enjoy fine Chinese tea.
From Miro on Ballard Avenue to Floating Leaves Tea on Market Street to Zen Dog Studio Teahouse atop Crown Hill, sip and take home exquisite teas grown and processed on small estates in mainland China and Taiwan.
If you really want to dive in, try visiting them all some afternoon on a tour de tea.
My first stop on this Ballard tea tour is Miro, which at first glance is the most similar to our ubiquitous Seattle coffee shops. But, the ambience is noticeably more relaxed.
People park here with their laptops and work, talk, sip tea and eat tasty handmade crepes and other good eats.
“I thought Seattle needed a different type of tea shop,” says owner Jeannie Liu. “I wanted a place for tea that was more approachable than the stereotype of quiet places with uncomfortable chairs. Coffee shops were better at promoting a social scene. I set out to have a place that has the comfort of coffeehouses, is welcoming and social, where you get to know your baristas.”
She has succeeded brilliantly. The baristas are friendly and knowledgeable, the vibe is easygoing and the extensive menu offers a wide variety of teas and seasonal specials.
With high ceilings and well-worn wood floors, Miro is spacious and comfortable.
On the back counter, a rotating selection of teas are always available for tasting. Today, there’s jasmine pearl green tea; a botanical blend of lavender, peppermint, and ginger; Tie Luo Han Chinese oolong; and Jing Mei Tang (Red Crane), a ripe pu-erh.
“At first, people would come in and almost say, ‘How dare you not have coffee!’ But, very quickly people got it and have become more accepting and knowledgeable and confident in selecting teas,” says Jeannie.
Besides premium Chinese and Taiwanese teas, Miro’s extensive tea menu offers herbal blends, such as Immunity Support and Detox.
And in case you venture out of Ballard, you can now buy Miro tea at Whole Foods.
Floating Leaves Tea
A few blocks east on Market Street is my next stop – Floating Leaves Tea.
Stepping inside is like entering a little jewel box. Tall shelves stuffed with silver canisters, gold vacuum-sealed bags of tea and colorful cups and pots line the walls in this cozy space.
The formal wooden tea-tasting station is where owner Shiuwen Tai brews up and offers tastes of her mostly Taiwanese teas.
Shiuwen grew up in Taiwan drinking tea as a part of everyday life.
“Tea is everywhere, and people drink it all the time,” she says.
When I ask if this is how she got into the tea business, she laughs.
“When I was with my American partner years ago who had lived in Taiwan, I discovered I couldn’t brew tea as well as him. It hurt my ego!”
She started to pay more attention to tea, got a job at a tea shop in Chinatown, read many books about tea, all the while steadily increasing her knowledge and passion for fine tea.
Today, Shiuwen enjoys educating people about good tea in her shop. She’ll brew up any of her teas in a gaiwan (a lidded tea cup) and talk about aroma, tastes and sensations to notice on your tongue, how the flavor evolves with each subsequent brew and more.
“I like to share with people what I know of tea quality and culture,” says Shiuwen.
Although she offers a variety of teas, Shiuwen specializes in high-quality oolong teas from Taiwan.
She also wants to connect people with the farmers who put so much care and effort into growing and crafting fine oolongs. She’s leading a tour of small tea estates in Taiwan this spring. The tour is sold out, but she hopes to go every year.
“I believe a good cup of tea makes people happy.”
Zen Dog Studio Teahouse
Have you ever driven by the house on Northwest 85th Street in Crown Hill decorated with big red lanterns swinging in the trees and wondered what it was like inside?
For my last stop on the tour de tea, I head up there to taste Chinese tea with Zen Dog Studio Teahouse owner Larry Murphy.
Don’t let the red metal gate scare you off. Walk on up the stairs, through the bamboo wood portal, push open the gate and ring the doorbell.
Pretty soon, Larry will welcome you with a smile and show you up the narrow back stairs to the studio, which glows warm with wood paneling and carefully placed track lighting.
Today when I arrive, Larry is serving tea to a couple people. I join them in the cozy alcove where he brews at his “alter to the tea leaf.”
We’re tasting Wen Shan Bao Chong, a green tea.
“This tea has a lot to offer. We’ll get at least five pours from it,” says Larry.
The tea is crisp and satisfying, and by the second pour I taste a hint of green grapes.
Zen Dog was initially an art gallery and frame shop, and although Larry still shows artists (including his own lovely nature photographs) and frames pictures, he’s often busy brewing and selling premium tea from southern China and Taiwan.
”Tea is very life affirming,” says Larry. “It goes beyond a beverage, it’s spiritual to me, which is why I use the best water I can from an artesian well to brew my tea. It’s also a sign of respect for the love and care that the farmers give it. Tea is just an awesome plant!”
Check out the next lunar arts events at Zen Dog on March 30, where musicians, artists, poets and writers will come together to perform and mingle.
Seattle-born Jill Irwin lives in Crown Hill, where she brews up a pot of tea almost every day. She writes about things to do around the region at her blog Pacific Northwest Seasons.
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