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Tea Shop

So what is hotter than southern Thailand in March? Turns out, Malaysia is! When i think about the last two weeks, a lot of my memories involve massive amounts of sweating. I think our bodies adjusted to the heat of middle thailand and north, but the heat and humidity down south is another beast. And this is winter! I don’t know how they do it – oh wait, yes I do. Asians don’t sweat much. Not fair!

So while walking around Penang on our first day there and sweating profusely, we ducked into a tea shop. It looked pretty nice (especially for Penang) and there were no prices anywhere. Uh oh. Bad sign for the backpacker. But we were tired and they were polite.

“Sit down. Sit down,” they said and in the air-conditioned coolness of a tea shop that could have easily been in upscale SF, we sat.

There were others there sipping tea and they looked like the well to do of Penang. In my mind, I was still thinking this might be expensive but luckily the US Dollar is in pretty good shape compared to the Malaysian Ringga and I wasn’t TOO worried.

The owner of the tea shop sat down next to us at our private table and asked if we’d like some tea. We said “sure” and then he asked us what kind. We chose jasmine green and then he asked us if we knew how to properly prepare tea.

Now, AB (that’s Alton Brown for the uninformed) actually did a show on this that I once caught, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. “No” was the simple answer

He was a very nice man and he spent the next 10-15 minutes with us showing how to properly prepare the tea. Half ritual, half for the taste; he took us through all the steps and explained WHY he was doing what he was doing. It isn’t exactly rocket science, but it was informational and when pressed with questions, he really knew the answers. He wasn’t just reciting prepared responses. It was clear that he loved tea and knew more about it than anybody I’ve ever met (including Kelly’s dad – which is saying quite a bit – that man likes his tea)

Then he left us to rest, drink our tea and quietly deliberate amongst ourselves how much we had just spent ($5, $10, $15?).

We spent about another hour there and then he returned to check on us. We had both prepared numerous cups of tea at this point (though it is worth mentioning that a “cup” in this case was probably 2 oz. They were very small). We both liked the whole process and thought about how we might introduce this ritual into the Sale household at some point. I was all for it.

Next to our table were some “discs” of tea. I asked the nice man what they were and he sat down and explained the fermented tea to us. Not fermented as in alcoholic, but a tea that has been aged so that its caffeine and other chemicals break down into a tea well suited for dessert and a digestive aid. This process can be done naturally by compacting the tea, wrapping it in cloth and letting it sit for, oh, 10-15 years; or artificially by the addition of pressure, heat and humidity.

He sold both types, the difference being that you could drink one today (artificial) or you could drink one in 10 years (natural). It turns out Malaysia is a great place for the natural fermentation to occur and so Chinese tea companies send the tea there for several years and then ship it back to China for sale. That was enough for me, I was hooked. I love the idea of having something sit around and get better over 10 years. Sign me up. And Kelly was in too. Yay.

We spent the next 20 minutes or so going over the different kinds that he had and settled on a 2005. We bought that disc and another for Kelly’s dad and then sat with the man for another hour as we talked about tea and then Malaysia – politics, culture, etc. It was a very nice break from the heat with interesting conversation.

And we tried not to think about how we had just spent $100 on tea…

So if you happen to be in Seattle in say, the year 2015 and want to try this tea, just let us know. We’d love to have you over.


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