Where tea is concerned, the nose knows

“Traditionally called Cha Dao, or the Dao of Tea, it is the harmony of tea, water, utensils, preparation, environment and conversation to create the perfect moment — a moment that can last for hours. A skilled pourer of tea creates the moment without standing in the middle of it. The moment belongs to the fragrance and taste of the tea, the atmosphere of ‘tea friends’ coming together, a moment outside the hecticness of daily life.”
— from the Association for Traditional [Chinese] Studies
Believe it or not, the not-so-humble cup of tea is the most popular drink in the world after good old water. And artisanal-quality liquid potables share the stage right alongside wine and beer in our fair region. In fact, we have a handy resource for some of the finest tea blends right here in Medford.
Yesterday I visited with John and Sandra Wiuff, owners of Roundtable Tea Company in Medford, where the philosophy and appreciation for the full tea-drinking experience described above is alive and well, only British style. Their cabinets boast more than 120 delicious, aromatic tea blends from the world over, which are almost as much fun to sniff as to drink. In fact, they encourage it.
“We use a sniff-try-buy approach,” John said, “because even if you don’t know anything about tea, your nose has all the information you need. It’s almost immediate that you know if you’re going to like it or not.”
He shared the story of a woman who had an immediate reaction to one particular mix.
“She said, ‘Oh, it smells like Uncle Louie.’ The memory was more powerful than what she was going to taste. What she smelled was tobacco, and Uncle Louis was a pipe smoker. So it made her think of her pipe-smoking Uncle Louis. Depending on whether she liked Uncle Louis or not, she was either going to like it or hate it.”
John and Sandra are hands-on shop owners, and they do it all with hospitality and a thorough knowledge of their product, which they enjoy sharing.
I always add a few brain wrinkles to my limited store of tea facts when I meet with them. Yesterday I learned that tea flavor should not deteriorate the longer it steeps. Rather it’s a reflection of a lesser quality should it become bitter. Another tidbit I overheard from a customer was that they’re able to “chai” any tea, because chai is not a variety of tea.
Roundtable hosts impressive High Teas for special occasions — Mother’s Day, for example. There’s still room available. Their downtown shop at 406 E. Main St., offers rooms designed to accommodate small- to medium-sized groups for everything from business meetings to celebrations. They can rent the entire facility, which seats 80 to 90 cozily.
Yesterday, while sipping my cup of green mango tango, a gathering of about 20 nursing and health professionals met around the corner in a separate room, and I wouldn’t have known they were there. The woman addressing the group gave Roundtable a rating of “A plus, plus, plus.”
Your olfactory sense will thank you for a trip through their tea cabinets. You can munch a fresh scone with Devonshire cream or lemon curd while your nose makes up its mind.
According to John, every blend has a story. The bag of goodness I brought home is an herbal blend called Lugano Palamisu Rooibos. It was the same mix the aforementioned woman referred to as Uncle Louie.
The actual story has more to do with the Swiss region of Lake Lugano, which serves a Palamisu dessert similar to the creamy, coffee-flavored goodness of Tiramisu, only with a Swiss twist. They add a touch of yogurt and sour cherries. Need I say more? Plus, it reminds me of my Uncle Beans, who was a cigar smoker. One gal’s Uncle Louis is another gal’s Uncle Beans, after all.
— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com

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