Seattle Tea

We’ve scheduled two new tea classes, on November 7th and 21st.

First, on November 7th, we will have a black tea class, Beyond Earl Grey: The World of Black Tea. “We’ll taste and compare fine black teas from India, Sri Lanka & China, including Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Keemun, and Yunnan. We’ll learn how black tea is made, and how to brew fine tea in small pots to bring out the best flavors in multiple steepings.”

Then on November 21st is a green tea class, Japanese Teas. “Learn about the unique and wonderful world of fine Japanese teas with their fresh and well-defined flavors. We’ll sample sencha (fine green tea), gyokuro (beautiful shade-grown tea), genmaicha (toasted rice tea), kukicha (twig tea), hojicha (roasted tea), and matcha (powdered green tea), and learn about how tea is grown and processed in Japan.”

Descriptions are quoted from Seattle Tea School, the site kept up by our tea instructor, Christopher. New classes are posted there first, if you want to stay as up to date as possible!

Sign up for classes at the tea house, or call or email us. Classes are ten dollars per person, and limited to seven people per class, so be sure to sign up in advance. We hope to see you soon!


Teahouse Kuan Yin has a new artist’s work up on our walls. We are now displaying and selling a fun series of collages by Erika Engelhardt, just the thing to liven up those rainy fall days Seattle specializes in. Erika tells stories about her life in glue and bright paper; come by and see if they’re your stories, too.

Kashmiri Pink Chai

Kashmiri Pink Chai

Chai–sweet, caffeinated, and exotically spicy–is a massively popular drink, and only getting more so as time goes on. So, what actually is it? You order a chai at Starbucks and walk off with what tastes like sixteen ounces of sugar syrup, just like everything else there, and all you can be sure of is that it involves sugar, milk, and possibly tea? Some brown liquid, anyway. But that’s why you have me, because you don’t have time to spend all afternoon figuring out what you’re drinking, and that’s what I’m being paid to do. So here’s what I found out for you today:

Chai is short for masala chai, which means “spiced tea” in Hindi. The earliest masala chai wasn’t a real tea drink at all, it was a drink made of a number of spices chosen for their Ayurvedic medical benefits, as a medicine for a king. As the mythical invention of chai is said to be before the mythical discovery of tea (both supposedly at least 5000 years ago), and substantially before tea was widely drunk in India (cultivation began in the 1830s, and it was almost all exported until the beginning of the twentieth century), tea was not one of those spices. The connection between the original masala chai and the current drink is largely in the name.

Modern chai got its start in the early twentieth century, when the huge British tea producers in India finally saturated their markets in Europe and had to start looking for new ones. Tea had not been grown in India until the British started their plantations, so it wasn’t something the Indians were in the habit of drinking. The producers started encouraging the locals to drink the stuff they spent all their time making, giving the factory workers tea breaks and encouraging people to set up tea vending stands. The producers were hoping the tea vendors would sell tea in the British style, with tea lightly flavored with milk and sugar, but the tea vendors soon began cutting their tea with spices, since tea was more expensive than cardamom and the like. It may also have been to improve the flavor; as the story goes, the high quality tea was being exported, and the Indian factory workers couldn’t have afforded it anyway, so the tea being sold by the vendors was of poor quality. The spices made their tea tastier.

In the nineteen sixties, chai got another boost in popularity in India with the invention of CTC processing. This dropped the price substantially, making it affordable to more people in India. It also worked well with chai, because CTC creates particularly powerful black tea. You may have seen it, it looks almost like coffee grounds, and produces a drink that’s nearly as strong! The strong flavors of CTC tea cuts through the milk and spices, so the tea can still be tasted. The flavor balance issue causes an odd realigning of priorities in chai. High quality teas are made to have gentle, smooth flavors, nothing harsh to shock the palate. But if you tried this with chai, the tea would be impossible to taste, overwhelmed by the milk and spices. So even in affluent situations chai is often made with relatively low-quality tea. What works alone and what works in blends are remarkably different!

The basic chai recipe is strong black tea, milk, sweetener, and spices. Usually the tea is a strong Assam, the kind of thing used in English Breakfast blends, often the CTC I mentioned above. The spice blend shifts depending on where the chai is being made and what the tea maker likes, but cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon are usually present. In general Indian blends emphasize cardamom, and American ones emphasize cinnamon. Almost anything can be put in, though, including ginger, anise, fennel, pepper, saffron, salt, and even almonds! The almonds are a favorite in a northern variant, the Kashmiri chai that we sell. It’s based on green tea instead of black, something strong and Chinese like gunpowder or hyson. It’s turned pink either by saffron or by messing with the pH balance during the brewing process. It has a gentler and richer flavor than the more common black tea chai. And a more exciting color, obviously.

Whew, I had no idea chai had such an involved history. We can all order our chai with a whole new level of smugness, wait sorry confidence, I meant confidence. Go forth and get all confident at your chai, now!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

I just posted a bunch of pictures of the shop on Facebook, go check them out! Do any of you have fun pics of us? We’d love to see them!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

We have a new art display at the teahouse! The Teatime Series is a set of still life photographs of Seattle’s wild birds, and will be for sale at the teahouse until August 29th. You’ll be able to meet the artist, Betty Udesen, at the teahouse on the July 7th Wallingford Art Walk.

Joe Blondo, a longtime customer here at Teahouse Kuan Yin, is getting his latest book published. Congratulations, Joe! Caught between Cultures is the story of Milton Wan, a Vietnamese immigrant in America, including his tumultuous family life and his being drafted into the American army to fight in the Vietnam War.

Joe and Milton are having a book opening party this Wednesday at Tai Tung, the restaurant where author and subject first met. Both Caught between Cultures and Joe’s previous book, The Greyer Elements, will be on sale.

Zetamari MirrorThe Wallingford Art Walk is coming up! It’s an event held on the first Wednesday of every month, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, here in Wallingford. Since almost all the businesses in the neighborhood have some local artist’s work on display in their shops, we have one day a month where the artists all come in to the stores to hang out and chat with anyone who wants to ask them about their art. It’s a great way to learn more about the neighborhood and the people in it, and look at some of the lovely art people around here make.

Angie Heinrich, who made the lovely mirrors currently adorning the walls of our shop, will be here to talk to everyone about her art. Come by to look at them and ask her how she makes them so pretty!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

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