When I wrote about South Korean Teas from Teas Unique on Monday I realized that I’d never but into blog-post-form the story of how Rob and I visited this really cool place on Jeju Island: The O’Sulloc Tea Museum.
I know, a tea museum? But trust me, it was so, so, awesome. Even if you’re not a tea freak like me, I’d bet you’d still get excited at the adorable demonstrations of Korean tea culture and beautiful, historic tea artifacts found inside. Plus, there’s a delicious café that serves FRESH matcha and these delightful matcha Swiss rolls, served chilled so their creamy centres are almost an ice-cream-like consistency.
I first heard it whispered about in the cozy kitchen of The Doctor’s House hostel in Sarajevo. Čajdžinica Džirlo, or ‘the hippie tea shop’ as the girls at the hostel put it. It was my second day in Bosnia and I was having breakfast with some other guests at the hostel, girls from Spain and Britain. We got to talking about when they told me I had to visit this place, near the Ottoman fountain in Baščaršija, the old town market.
One girl grabbed a map and the place was pointed out and circled. “It’s awesome,” she said, “You have to go.” I did go, and it was awesome.
How better to honour Oscar Wilde, playwright, poet, novelist and total lush, than to savour tea named after him in a gilded room just around the corner from Piccadilly circus in the heart of London’s West End. In his old haunt you’ll find some of the fanciest tea snacks and opulent walls in the city known for its love of afternoon tea. Continue Reading
You don’t need any maps. The trail is straightforward. When you reach Lake Louise, follow the path that leads towards the back of the lake and you’ll come to the trailhead naturally.
Everything can clearly marked, with lots of good signposts along the way. A lot of the signs were in miles. Canada only got their metric act together in the 70s, and a lot of the signs have been here much longer.
And hey, we made this awesome video to share with you.
It starts off on a rainy morning. We saw lightning strikes as we headed across the Lake Louise Parkway.
We weren’t allowed to film inside the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. They have a no-media policy to preserve the atmosphere and let their guests tune in to nature instead. Totally fine by me. Their chocolate cake made everything okay.
Okay, so I did sneak one photo. Of this mostly-eaten cake. I couldn’t stop myself; the cake was half-gone before I even picked my camera up.
Not in the video: When we arrived at the Lake Agnes Tea House (with only enough money for one chai!) the staff at the Lake Agnes Tea House gave us a note to take to the staff at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. In exchange (and out of the kindness of their hearts) they gave us a cookie.
The two sets of staff hang out together and walk the path between tea houses all the time. They also walk up and down the mountain nearly every day, with trash or to get supplies.
The note said, “See you for church night. Don’t stand us up again!”
I asked our server what church night is.
“Oh, it’s half off wings and beer down in town.”
The Banff Tea Company provides the tea for the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house. I visited the tea company in Banff the day before (because of course I did) and there I learned that the woman who started the Banff Tea Company now owns the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
The Banff Tea Company even does a special Plain of Six Glaciers herbal blend. I got this and some of their Traveller’s Tea. They do a lot of specialty blends with rocky mountains and Albertan themes. Definitely visit them if you’re in Banff.
You can’t buy any loose tea at the tea house. Bringing up stock is difficult so they only keep on hand what they need to cook for guests. If you want to buy tea, best stock up in Banff before or after.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is pretty old. It was built in 1927 by two Swiss guides for the Canadian Pacific Railway. There is also a dog named Arlo-Barlo.
The Lake Agnes Tea House is the oldest tea house in Canada. It was built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and started serving tea in 1905. They have been serving tea for 110 years.
Honestly, walking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House was like walking into Rivendell. We were so tired and it was such a paradise. There’s even a waterfall with stairs going up the side you have to climb to get there.
For Canada, that’s mighty old.
That’s a lot of cups of tea.
It was so chilly outside the tea house and warm inside with the ovens going that thick condensation hugged the windows. It was so cozy. I could have spent the whole day here.
I don’t know if you can tell, but I am VERY happy here.
Also, we had some ridiculously good photo weather. I mean, and this is half brag and half incredulity, but just look at these!
I kept feeling like I was in Jurassic Park, or a new Mac OS screensaver. Either way, goddamn lucky. It was rainy and overcast when we left (as you can see in the video). Never thought we’d get clouds or sun like this.
The photo above is a piece of the mountain known as the Big Beehive.
If you do this route, don’t forget to bring cash.
The Lake Agnes Tea house is cash only, and Plain of Six Glaciers did take our VISA, but bring cash, that way you’re good no matter what.
Ask me any questions you want about the trail! Is there anything I forgot to add?
And (of course) a rainbow at the end of the day to tie it all together.
This was a day when I felt really lucky to be alive and be human and get to climb mountains and drink tea and see rainbows.
The world is a really extraordinary place. I’m very privileged and lucky, but you know what? A lot of people who can afford to, don’t even make time for little pleasures, like looking at rainbows, and drinking tea. They say they can’t, or just don’t think of it.
Make time for those things, okay guys? They’re really important.
And you know what? Rainbows are free. Tea is nearly free.
What’s that phrase, “the best things in life…”
Day 16 Costs:
Family Diner, Lupper for 2: $34.29
Lake Agnes Tea House, Chai Latté: $4.00
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House (chocolate cake, 2 sandwiches, soup with corn chips, chai latte, 2 bottles of water, lemonade): $53.80
I was walking down a desolate street in the middle of a hot afternoon and. Closed signs and shuttered doors of bars and theatres stared back blankly at me as if to say, “Don’t you know what time it is? Come back later.”
Then I reached the intersection I was looking for at northwest Everett street in central Portland, Oregon. Kitty corner across from me there was a big pair of stone gates with Chinese characters. Beyond them, an oasis and a tea house.
Lán Sū Chinese Gardens in Portland, Oregon is the result of a collaboration between Portland and their sister city, Suzhou, in Jiangsu province in China. Suzhou is known for its beautiful Ming Dynasty gardens. Although I’m no expert, Lan Su staff say the Lan Su garden in Portland is one of the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. A wealthy 16th century family home is recreated inside the garden.
Lan Su Chinese Gardens in the sun. It really was a crazy hot day. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
The tea house inside at the back of the garden is run by The Tao of Tea and set inside a building known as The Tower of Cosmic Reflection. It’s the coolest place name I’ve ever heard.
I recommend doing the garden and house tour first and then stopping for tea and snacks at the end.
This was my first time having someone present “gong fu cha” to me and the Lán Sū Chinese Gardens were the perfect backdrop.
Sitting by the open window of the second floor of the tea house, I felt more like I was in Suzhou than Portland.
My server was extremely knowledgeable and quick to recommend the Frozen Summit Oolong when I asked him to suggest a favourite. Healso had a great flare for showmanship, pouring my tea with grace and flourishing the wet leaves under my nose to sniff. As he performed the gong fu ceremony he explained every step.
This was the start of my west coast oolong kick.
Frozen Summit is a single origin tea from Lugu in Central Taiwan. I should mention that The Tao of Tea is a local Portland company. They provide all the tea in the Lán Sū Tea house and are a 100% pure leaf tea company, meaning they use no artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives.
Gongu fu cha
Gong fu cha is what you call the traditional Chinese tea ceremony and it literally means, “making tea with effort/skill“.
While not as rigorous or formal as Japanese tea ceremony, gong fu still has specific rituals surrounding it. The idea is for you to be conscious/present when you pour the tea. Basically, put some effort into it.
Gong Fu paraphernalia includes an unglazed clay tea pot, a serving pitcher, several small clay tea cups, a set of bamboo tongs for moving tea leaves, a ceramic bowl for holding the tea leaves, and a slotted tray to capture overflowing water.
All the gongu fu cha paraphernalia. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
I asked my host to treat me like an absolute novice when it comes to Chinese tea.
We begin the ceremony by having me smell the dry tea leaves in the white porcelain bowl.
THen he takes the tea from the bowl using his bamboo tongs and drops them into the clay tea pot. He adds hot water (around 85˚C), and swirls it around in the teapot, before dumping it into the serving vessel (as seen in the photo above).
This first infusion is just to ‘awaken’ the leaves. It gets poured out and the hot water is added again for the first drinking infusion.
A trademark of gong fu cha is the multiple steeps. The first steep is quite short – about 15 seconds for this oolong.
Subsequent steeps become longer and longer – adding about 10 seconds each time.
Once the tea is sufficiently steeped, it’s poured into the serving pitcher (the thing that looks like a gravy boat). This is so that all the tea you drink from this steep has a consistent flavour. My host tells me this oolong will be good for about seven steeps, and has me smell the wet, steeped tea leaves to appreciate their aroma.
From there, it’s poured into the tall “aroma” cup. Then, the shorter drinking cup gets placed over it and flipped upside down to empty the aroma cup contents into the drinking cup.
I’m then given the aroma cup to smell – once again, appreciating the tea. After that, I continue to sip from the small drinking cup.
You repeat the process over and over for each steep until the serving pitcher is empty.
My host said I didn’t have to flip the aroma cup over every time – that I could just pour the tea straight into the drinking cup from the serving pitcher if I liked, but it was too much fun flipping over the cup. Did you hear the ‘bloop’ noise in the video above?
Lan Su Chinese Gardens also had amazing snacks. Dumplings, veggies, and larger meals were available too. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Marbled tea egg at Lan Su Chinese Gardens. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
There are a few different types of light snack on offer. I tried steamed dumplings, bao-zi (steamed buns), and a marbled tea egg.
All were good, although I wish there had been meat-filled steamed buns available. I recommend the marbled tea egg for the more adventurous. It has a unique taste; a combination of soy sauce, star anise, and pine-smoked tea. The smokey flavour really comes through. You’re served the egg at room temperature or slightly warm.
There is a lot on offer for tea drinkers here. If I were a Portlander, you would probably find me sleeping under the tables.
In terms of atmosphere, clay pots line every spare inch of the shelving. Chatty patrons are sitting in bamboo chairs and at wood tables. The smell of dumplings snakes through the air from the kitchen entrance. Students from the local Wisdom Arts Academy play soft, traditional Chinese music on their liuyeqin and yangqin instruments.
Altogether a wonderful experience. Even if you’re not a hardcore tea drinker, I think anyone would enjoy this combination of delicious snacks, tea and heritage under one roof.
The phrase, “You like Russia? You should visit Clinton, in Massachusetts.” is high on a list of things I never thought I’d hear at the Women in Travel Summit in Boston, but it happened, so I went.
Included in the price of purchasing my conference ticket was the chance to visit the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton. It was definitely the curveball stop in our otherwise conventional list of “Johnny Appleseed Country” type visits on our regional tour, but it ended up being my favourite place because of its interesting history and complete randomness.
The front door to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
An interesting history
So how did this Museum of Russian icons end up in small town Massachusetts? The answer — an eccentric millionaire: Gordon B. Lankton.
Lankton built his fortune as CEO of Nypro, Inc., a plastics company. Before Nypro he was a plastics engineer and a soldier. He was an avid traveller, and even wrote a memoir about the motorcycle trip he took around the world in 1956 and 1957 after being stationed in Germany. He wanted to visit Russia for a long time but because of his soldier status he was unable to enter Russia during the Cold War.
Once the war ended he went to Russia. With the help of a Russian-speaking tour guide he toured local markets and bazaars and acquired his first icon at a flea market in the Izmaylovo District in Russia
This was where his obsession with Russian icons began.
Now Lankton travels to Russia and buys up all the icons he can find. He’s been doing it for the past thirty years. He built the museum to house his collection and it currently has over 700 Russian icons and related artifacts. As a result, he has the largest collection of Russian icons in North America.
Their oldest icon is from 1450 and they have an old cross from the 5th century.
The whole museum was lit with these really subtle, pulsing LEDs that according to the guide are meant to mimic the light coming in through a stained glass window. There’s also traditional Christian Orthodox monk chanting music playing softly in the background. The museum itself has also been blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, so it’s actually possible for Christian Orthodox couples to be married here. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
An icon is a religious painting done by the Russian Orthodox Christians. The tradition can be traced back to AD988 in Russia (called Kievan Rus at the time). Icons depict saints, so Russian Orthodox Christians kept them in their homes and churches for luck and prayed to them. Smaller icons were carried by soldiers into battle or by travellers as a good luck charm. They’re often made of wood painted with egg tempura.
Early Orthodox Christians in Russia thought of icons as portals to the divine. I’ve been told that if hordes were invading a village, the resident holy man would run towards the invading horde with an icon raised for protection.
There is also a specific way to portray each Saint and there are over 450 ways to paint the Virgin Mary.
That sounds like a song lyric, doesn’t it?
One of the most beautiful and unique aspects of Russian Icons I learned about were minyeia. Pictured above, these are calendars with each day featuring one or more saints. The details were so miniscule. Our museum guide told us that some brushes might only have one hair on them, and that the painters would have to paint, “between heartbeats”. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Russian tea room
Although it was awe-inspiring to be in the presence of ancient icons, I was equally excited when we made our way to the tea room in the basement. This cozy space featured lots of Kusmi Teas (also available in the gift shop) and various Russian snacks.
Although they keep a Keurig which provides the hot water for day-to-day guests like myself, they had a whole back wall full of beautiful samovars.
Samovars are the traditional water heating tools for tea in Russia, Turkey and parts of the Middle East. They’re an old tradition, but not as old as the icons upstairs — the first known samovar was manufactured in 1717. “One is electric,” our tour guide grins, “but we take the plug out when it’s on display.”
If you visit on an average day you’ll likely get your water from the Keurig in the room, but the museum does host a Russian tea ceremony once a month.
I had Kusmi’s Prince Wladimir, an earl grey base blended with vanilla and spices. It was pretty good for a bagged tea and appropriately Russian, but I wish we’d gotten to use the samovars.
Still, for a tea junkie like me it was nice just to see their collection of samovars had a place among the ancient icons in this strangely old yet futuristic building.
If you go, entrance is $10 for adults and $5 for students. See if you can catch the Russian tea ceremony. If tea and icons aren’t you’re fancy, the building’s energy-efficient design and LED lighting scheme are impressive nonetheless.