Updates Abound

As per usual, I have no actual article written or interesting things to discuss. I’ve just got some updates to my tea life.

Firstly, a new tea shop has opened up in my area. SOKO Teahouse. They are a very modern-traditional shop. Clean and open and bright, while focusing heavily on Chinese and Japanese brewing utensils and teas. I’ve been in there a few times already, and I really like the feel. Since Tealicious closed down their brick storefront, the only shop near me (most require an hour busride, which I’m willing to make–but only once or twice a month) has been Davids. Which I admit is a guilty pleasure of mine (52Teas fix without having to wait for orders to come in), but does get a bit boring. Though they’ve been branching out into unflavoured teas recently, which pleases me.

What originally drew me to SOKO was a posting about a Laos puehr. I was so impressed with the shop I’ve returned quite a few times. It didn’t take much detective work to figure out that they’re wholesaling from (or at least partly from) Camellia Sinensis (I’d been meaning to order one of their Laos puehrs for a while now). This was later confirmed when I picked up one of their sample sets and lo and behold, it had the logo and name stamped right on the front. It’s a company I’ve been meaning to try for a while now, so it’s pretty exciting. Retail markup, but no shipping costs.

SOKO’s also got the largest collection of tea books I’ve ever seen (including a textbook-grade dictionary of tea terms), and I also picked up a travel gaiwan gongfu set on my third trip there. All in all, a solid company. There’s been a lot of drama going on in my current part-time job, so I’ve actually been considering applying there. They’re very friendly, though I’m quite awkward (I think they’ve noticed this–when I’m nervous, I get nervously chatty, and have a tendency to blurt out tea facts unasked).

Otherwise, some old news: For my birthday last year, I got The Ancient Art of Tea, which my mom apparently picked up in the giftshop on the ferry. I’ve flipped through it, but haven’t read it cover-to-cover it, as I’ve got a huge stack of books to read. That makes it sound like a chore, but I unfortunately buy more books than I have time to read them (much like my dad).

For Christmas, my parents got me Weekend in Istanbul and Weekend in Venice, from Urban Tea Merchant (other tea gifts include a Davidstea colour-changing mug from my sister, a Bodum glass mug with infuser, also from my parents, and a little plastic citrus-slice tea infuser (the closest I can find is this, but it’s quite different–plastic, and the slice hooks onto the side of your mug; very convenient; I use it for rooibos).

Not even going to list all the teas I’ve bought and finished off.

Most recently, however, while hitting up the cluster of used bookstores in downtown Vancouver, I spotted in the window of Macleod’s, a Tea Book display. About six or seven books–most of which, straight off my wishlist (oh yes, I have a “bookshelf” page now; it’s been sitting in my drafts for a while, I kept forgetting to post it). But most importantly, stationed a little to the left, was Ch’a Ching, The Classic of Tea. A book I’ve been interested in reading ever since I read The Book of Tea. Translated by Francis Ross Carpenter.

I rushed right in (straight to the counter, first, as I’d purchased some books from Albion across the street, and didn’t want them to think me stealing), then tried to swim my way to the display. If you’ve ever been in Macleod’s, you’d know what I meant. First I had to find the aisle that got you closest to the display, and then lean over and around stacks of books to blindly try to grab at what was up front. Luckily, though I’m not particularly tall, I’m not short either (painfully average; taller than a lady, shorter than a man, exactly on-par with Patrick Troughton). I was there for the Classic, but I honestly wanted to buy up the whole display. The only thing stopping me was that the Classic alone was thirteen dollars; The Spirit of Tea, which was also present, ran fourteen I believe, and The Story of Tea was twenty-five. Harney and Son’s book was there as well (about twenty, I think), as well as a two-volume set on Chinese tea culture which I couldn’t quite reach.

I ended up just settling for Ch’a Ching, for now. And partly because, although they had a whole shelf for Geology, it was… way up there, and not even a step stool got me close enough to reaching; I’m awkward about asking for help.

While I was being rung up, we discussed the fact that Vancouver Community College is holding a Tea Sommelier class. Which got me thinking about SOKO, as apparently the owner is a certified Tea Sommelier. I honestly don’t put much credit in the classes, or in the “certification”–at least the courses and certifications done online (seems a bit internet-scammy to me), unless they’re done in connection with the Tea Association of Canada; otherwise, I put more stock in the certified tea tasting programs done on tea estates.

I’d consider taking the course only if I were sure I’d be learning more than what I know already, or could easily find online. The program offered through VCC seems fairly extensive, at least (and since it’s being held by an actual community college, I put a little more stock in it), but it’s definitely geared more towards “how to start your own tea company”.

I’ll stick that on my list of degrees and certifications I’d like to complete after I’ve finished Geology (so far, others include: French, ASL, bartending).

Oh yes. Lastly, I joined a tea club. It turns out the university I transferred to has one; they’re not quite as “into” tea as I’d hoped, but it’s pleasant; it mostly involves sitting around, talking about random topics, and sipping whatever tea was agreed on by consensus. I spend most of it sitting quietly, but I’ve brought in a few teas to share, and it was through them that I discovered SOKO.

Unfortunately, I only ever stay an hour each Meet, as I have my swing-dancing class directly afterwards (this just in: I’m taking swing dancing lessons; we alternate between learning the Charleston and Lindy Hop).

A transgendered, tea-drinking, rock-hammer wielding, mineral-collecting, fashionable, mid-twenties Canadian.

11 Comments

  1. Tea and swing dancing is an interesting combination, myself I prefer to pair tea with more tea.

  2. Vancouver seems to be a town with a lot of tea things, including books…

    Books and tea, books and tea, books and tea…
    My two Preciouses.

  3. Great to hear from you again! Thanks for the interesting tea updates, seems like you have plenty of interesting news for us. I should bookmark this post, should we ever head up to Vancouver.
    Anyway…I agree it would be interesting if you could get a job at SOKO. That’s pretty cool your college has a tea club! What kinds of teas have you had by consensus?
    The Laos pu’er sounds intriguing…What did you think of it?

    • AJ

      07/03/2013 at 1:06 PM

      @jackie It’s a really great little shop. We need more like it. My current part-time job has been stirring up a bit of drama lately, so I’d really appreciate the change.

      As for the tea club–thus far, we’ve sipped almost purely Davidstea, with one from Tea Desire (a small Canadian chain localized to the lower mainland), and one Teaopia (the Canadian company Teavana took over last year). I’ve brought in a few of my own teas to share (just one from The O Dor so far). They definitely prefer flavoured, though.

      One week they showed me an unknown compressed pu’ehr brick they had on-hand (wrapped in newspaper), but were unaware how one was supposed to properly handle it (they explained that they’d hack at it with a spoon until they had enough for a pot). It was a little horrifying. It ended up turning into a bit of a tea-lesson, showing them how to properly pry free leaves with my pocketknife.

      I liked the Laos pu’ehr enough to pick some up. Although SOKO carries it “loose”… That is to say, they took the tea and pried it apart into rough, teaspoon-sized chunks in a tin. Unless this is how Camellia Sinensis sells it (their site pictures the whole brick). I haven’t a whole lot of experience with pu’ehrs (particularly telling apart flavours, I guess), but I like it. The tobacco is almost chewy.

  4. @happygaiwan – Chris, have you seen this post by fellow Canadian blogger @supermoon10? Thought it would interest you too, not just because you live in the same country…

  5. Ha ha, dude, you have like ten things going on and it’s awesome. “After I do my Geology stuff I’m gonna go to tea club plus read all these books and then go swing dancing”. You’re living the kind of life not possible in a podunk town such as the one I’m in.

    Also, what’s your focus in Geology? Stratigraphy? Petroleum? Mineralogy?

    • AJ

      07/03/2013 at 1:11 PM

      @happygaiwan The worst (or best) part is that all of my extracurriculars are clustered on Friday. I go from class directly to tea club, cut tea club short to go to swing dancing, then immediately leave after swing dancing to commute halfway home to meet up with friends to go to the weekly Shadowrun (tabletop gaming) meet. Which goes well into the night, meaning I get home some time around 1am.

      And I carry a book with me everywhere to make all the commuting easier (I live off of the bus and skytrain system).

      No focus yet. Just completing a general bachelor’s; I’ve been working summer jobs in hopes of narrowing that down, but so far I’ve only worked in the coal industry. I’m taking statigraphy right now, though.

  6. I don’t think you can go wrong with tea from Camellia Sinensis. I have such respect for the team there. Frank Hadley Murphy’s “Spirit of Tea” is a truly wonderful book and the Heiss book is a great resource. Next time! Sounds like a successful tea adventure.

    • AJ

      07/03/2013 at 1:14 PM

      @teapages They’re a company I’ve wanted to try for a while, so SOKO was a pretty awesome find (although they don’t know that I know where they source their tea; I feel like a master sleuth).

      I’ll probably pick up Spirit of Tea if it’s still there the next time. I would have, but I knew that if I didn’t limit myself to JUST one book, then “just two” would turn into “if I’m going to buy multiple, then what’s one more” and then I’d just swear at the heavens and buy the whole display.

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