Zen Dog, a tea master based in Ballard, will pour tea for just about anyone who rings his doorbell, or by appointment.
Having tea in Ballard with a tea master
Pouring crystal-clear water from a gallon tank, Larry Murphy, better known as Zen Dog, prepared tea from a 500-year-old tree.
“This is the purest water in Seattle,” he said, as he closely watched the water boil, smiling behind a long, white beard.
Clothed in a navy Mao suit, Murphy explained how every week and a half he journeys to Mt. Baker to retrieve water from an artisan well, bringing back 45 to 50 gallons.
To Murphy, tea isn’t just a drink, it’s a “life enhancing, life sustaining force.”
Murphy left 27 years of architecture in Seattle to prepare tea for anyone in the community. The very home in which he raised his children was transformed into what is now the Zen Dog Tea Gallery on Northwest 85th Avenue and 21st Avenue Northwest in Ballard.
On most days throughout the week, or by appointment, Murphy will prepare tea for anyone who rings his doorbell. All assortments of people come to his door, he said, including prostitutes, the homeless, even CEOs and millionaires.
Every full moon of every month, Zen Dog hosts a party with freshly brewed tea and live music. Everyone is welcome.
His life purpose in offering tea to everyone, free of charge, originated when he first met Chinese artists, many of whom now sell their work in his studio. These artists were the first to introduce him to good tea, he said.
“I didn’t think I liked tea, until I tasted high-mountain tea,” he said.
Murphy said that like most Seattleites, he drank coffee regularly. But no longer.
“I don’t like the feeling anymore. It betrays you,” he said.
Tea differs in that it’s “steady,” he said. And no matter how fancy the box, he said, real tea ought only to be steeped in loose-leaf form.
“Tea in bags is like floor sweep,” Murphy said.
Now, both levels of his home are stocked with jars of Chinese tea leaves, some acquired from centuries-old trees.
The tea ceremony begins with the cleansing of the drinkers’ taste buds with hot water in very small cups, typical of Canton.
As he poured hot water into the gaiwan, a colorful cup and saucer with a lid that brews the tea, tightly wound green jasmine pearls began to unfurl.
The purity of these leaves is such that you may reuse the leaves up to seven pours.
“The third pour is the ultimate in taste,” Murphy said. “The bud has then fully opened.”
By the second pour, the jasmine tea had lost its sharpness and gave off a fragrant, even buttery taste.
Murphy helps drinkers experience drinking tea to its fullest.
“You slurp in the air,” he said. “The taste buds are on the top of your mouth – you get more flavor.”
When the jasmine tea was finished, Murphy broke out a different kind of tea.
While the jasmine tea had distinct qualities, the ancient pu’er wild purple tip tastes like the earth after a rain, according to the gallery’s menu.
One ounce of the ground ancient leaves sells for $30. A brick of it goes for $500.
Murphy said that these tea leaves are rare and expensive because there is only so much — once it’s gone, it’s gone.
By the third pour of the purple tip, the tea had sweetened to the taste of a sugared black tea.
By the fourth pour, the tea took on a transcendental quality. Those around the table described the rose-colored tea as first affecting the crown of the head and the heart, then moving upward and outward.
Murphy described the lucid high of a tea as being “heart-opening.”
At the sixth pour, the members surrounding the Chinese tea table were sharing personal aspects of their lives, as if they had known each other for years.
Murphy said that many dub this tea a truth serum.
“The purple tip has so much Qi because it’s from a 500-year-old tree with an intricate, deep root system,” Murphy said.
Qi, or Chi, is best described as one’s life force or spirit, he said.
“You wouldn’t exist without it,” Murphy said.
All too quickly, two hours had passed and the tea ceremony was done.