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.
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.
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?
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.
Entering the the Lán Sū Gardens costs $9.50 for adults, $7 for students.
I never thought I’d go down in history for eating waffles in Portland, Oregon.
I should have known better.
To back up, a couple weeks ago I attended World Domination Summit (“WDS”), a yearly gathering which aims to host attendees who care about community, service and adventure.
This was the Summit’s fifth year, and over 3,000 people were involved between attendees, volunteers, and Portland locals who joined in for some of the events.
WDS was started by Chris Guillebeau (gill-a-bow, I had to constantly remember not to use the french pronunciation), a young internet entrepreneur who you may know from his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, or one of his manifestos: 279 Days to Overnight Success, or A Brief Guide to World Domination.
To sum it up, WDS is a weekend conference for people trying to live an unconventional life in a conventional world, as the tagline goes. I have to say, it was pretty unconventional. The speakers ran the gamut, from holistic OB/GYN M.D. Lissa Rankin, to CD Baby Founder Derek Sivers.
A common thread (other than their inspirational and entrepreneurial talks) was that they were all prolific, self-made entrepreneurs with very strong internet presences.
One thing I took away from this is that WDS and Portland in general is a very tight community. I was a first-time attendee, and a lot of the people present at the conference had been before, and a decent amount had even been all five years.
Previous attendees I met were quick to tell me how much I was going to love WDS. I love that people are so passionate about it, but at times could tend more towards waxing nostalgic about previous WDS years than living in the moment.
Speaking of meeting people, my biggest recommendation for future attendees is to:
Attend the Academies and Meetups
While the mainstage and keynote speakers and the people you meet in line at “The Schnitz” are great, I found more people who shared common goals at the Academies, and it was easier to get to know people.
There are just so many people who come to WDS. There are fortune tellers who make their income online, guys who bike around the world for a living, social activist graffiti artists, corporate types, non-corporate types, people from all over the world, people from Portland, etc. A lot of them are kind of tech-savvy hippies, but not exclusively. It’s a super interesting, very large crowd to try and parse through. It can be overwhelming.
Academies are smaller (40-300ish people). I went to the Location Rebel (Hosted by Sean Ogle) and Language Lab (Hosted by Benny Lewis and Scott Young). I particularly liked the practical part of the language lab where we broke off into groups of the languages we were trying to learn, and I got to practice my bad mandarin for a few minutes.
Meetups are even smaller, with some of them having less than twenty people each. Even better for getting to know people. One of my favourite meetups was Women in Travel-themed at the Swine Moonshine and Whiskey Bar.
All meetups were listed and could be R.S.V.P.’d to using WDS’ proprietary scheduling app for iOS and Android. It made it very easy to find out what was going on, and where.
Academies Started on Thursday; I arrived on Wednesday and spent a lot of time walking to and from locations in the city, and it was hot, hot, hot! By the time the after-party rolled around on Sunday evening I was feeling mentally, physically and socially burnt out.
I started looking forward to some nice focused time on the road, driving from Portland, OR to San Francisco, CA, for the next leg of my journey. This didn’t stop me from going out to the after-party, or making a last-minute stop at Voodoo Doughnut though.
Breaking the Guinness World Record
What an unforgettable way to start the week; breaking the Guinness World Record for the Largest Breakfast in Bed. We couldn’t just eat breakfast as we arrived in Pioneer Square; we had to wait until 600 of us were in bed together and then eat in sync for five minutes in order to qualify, beating the record previously set by Shanghai in 2014 (388 people).
During our wait in the line for breakfast, we were treated to Rose City Coffee, Kind Bars, and endless donuts from Voodoo Doughnut. The main ‘course’ was a veggie breakfast burrito from Elephants Deli and a yogurt and granola parfait from KIND snacks. There were no complaints here. All were in good spirits for the event.
The event was dubbed ‘Worldwide Waffles’, but in lieu of Belgian-style waffles, to meet the needs of 600+ breakfasters, stroopwafels were used.
They’re a Dutch brown sugar cookie with caramel-like syrup on the insides, and the Dutch girl in me jumped for joy. I love stroopwafels.
Tying in with their theme of service, all the blankets and beds that were bought for the event were donated to local organizations that support families in need.
Overall, WDS gave me a great intro to Portland’s culture, and a great weekend full of advice and new relationships and ideas for my own career that I’ll be ruminating on in weeks to come. There were a lot of really amazing people both on stage and in the audience, and I think they’ve got something really special happening there.
In fact, I would love to see something similar start in my hometown of Halifax. Just an idea for the cookie jar.
Would I go again?
Because of my location (I’m in Halifax on Canada’s East Coast) I doubt I’ll be going again next year simply because of the cost. However, my experience was very positive and I could definitely see myself going again in future years, likely worked into another road trip or leg of a larger journey. It’s an entrepreneur Disneyland.
Next year instead of 3,000 tickets, they’re limiting it to 1,000. Shrinking the size of the conference sounds like a great idea to me, as I think it would mean running into the same people more often, and allowing for more intimate discussions and relationships.
Tickets aren’t for sale yet, but check out their website to catch the first wave. They always go fast, so I recommend subscribing to their newsletter to keep on top of it.