Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dine & Dash extra: The beauty of Yellow Mountain

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Back in May, I told you about Yellow Mountain Tea House, a new addition to Old Colorado City, operated by Guilin, China native Tanya Baros (whose given Chinese name is actually Lin Liucen). 

In tomorrow's Dine & Dash column, I take a closer look at the outfit during a very entertaining and informative "Gongfu" tea tasting I did with Baros last week. She's a very warm and humorous person, quick to playfully admonish: "You Americans — see how you are?!" This stemming from her trying to show me exactly how to taste a certain tea and hold a tiny bit back in my mouth to savor the flavor longer — me apparently looking like I was slow-motion swishing mouthwash. 
click to enlarge Someone please give Baros a design award. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Someone please give Baros a design award.

To give you an idea of how a potential tasting might go for you and what you can expect, I walked in and asked Baros to help me select a few teas that were either her favorite or something interesting that she thought would be entirely new to me. Without hesitation, she walked over and grabbed a jar off of a shelf and opened it for me to smell: It was the Jin Xuan “milk” Oolong tea, which I'll discuss more in tomorrow's column, because it was, to be clear, super freakin' epic, especially in aroma, but also in flavor. 

click to enlarge Individual jars of teas await your sniff and tasting. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Individual jars of teas await your sniff and tasting.


She also grabbed a black tea that she said contained a natural honey flavor, as well as a stevia-like "sweet tea" called Rubus suavissimus, and an herbal tea that she calls "8 Treasures" for its blend of health benefits as recognized by Chinese medicine. 

We then retired from the display area to a low wooden table already set with an ornate wooden tea tray and ceramic wares. Since I was the only customer in the store at the time — something I do hope changes for her, since she'll need (and deserves) community support to stick around the revolving-door location under Jake & Telly's — she sat with me for over a half an hour, undistracted. When she does have multiple customers, she says she'll quickly jaunt from table to table pouring and introducing a tea and then leaving guests to relax and sample. 

click to enlarge Baros, actually Lin Liucen, explained that being born in a tiger year, her father named her with Chinese characters relating to the tiger's habitat, the forest. The meanings "wood" and "mountain" are included. (P.S. Our English names suck.) - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Baros, actually Lin Liucen, explained that being born in a tiger year, her father named her with Chinese characters relating to the tiger's habitat, the forest. The meanings "wood" and "mountain" are included. (P.S. Our English names suck.)

As Baros introduces each tea, she discusses everything from its harvesting season and method to its ideal steeping temperature and time. She'll also occasionally throw in historical notes, such as tea traditions dating back to the Tang Dynasty, info on ancient tea roads and how tea drinking became part of daily custom for the Chinese. 
click to enlarge Tiny almond cookies served to me with my black tea, ostensibly to highlight honey notes in the tea. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Tiny almond cookies served to me with my black tea, ostensibly to highlight honey notes in the tea.

When it comes to pouring, there's certainly a practiced art at work, as Baros discusses the importance of precise temperatures, yet she evaluates all her temperatures by touch versus using a thermometer — very Jedi, or Zen, or something. Before adding any tea to the smaller-sized cups, she'll warm them first by dumping hot water over them and the underlying tea plate. She also "cleans" and "moisturizes" the leaves with a quick first pour that she dumps out after about 10 seconds. So what you'll drink is technically a second steep, for as little as 20 to 30 seconds in the case of the amazing aforementioned oolong tea. 

As with Third Wave coffee culture, easily recognized by its showy presentations and seemingly goofball gadgetry, there's many a method to proper tea service, respective to each tea being sampled. For green tea, once doesn't place the lid over the tea cup during the steep; water is poured over the leaves, not over the middle, but with a swirling motion over the perimeter of the cup. 

Following a tasting, where some teas can be steeped up to eight times, there's no pressure to purchase any variety or amount, but the shop of course depends on sales, as the tasting itself is a free service (unless you care to just come in and purchase a single cup of tea, for which a menu is available; most teas cost around $2.50 for a cup or $5 for a pot). 

click to enlarge The pretty packaging in which you'll take you goodies home. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The pretty packaging in which you'll take you goodies home.

Side note: Please don't be one of the people who thinks it is OK to taste liberally and then walk away without buying at least something small or tipping. Sadly, Baros described many instances of being repeatedly taken advantage of in this manner, which makes me want to also quip: "You Americans — see how you are?!" But also adding some cuss words somewhere in there. Don't be that customer. Just don't. 

Teas, routinely shipped in fresh, are sold by the gram, and packaged beautifully in pouches (for travelers), or cylindrical tubes (for locals) intended to be brought back in for filling. Even the tote bags Baros provides are worth holding onto for re-gifting or creative re-using. From start-to-finish, a store visit is an exercise in elegance, gracefulness and gourmet goodness, and like me, you'll likely leave a little euphoric from all the sampling and soothing ambiance. 

My tea steeping instructions to you: Go. Taste. Buy. Repeat. 
click to enlarge More prettiness on view inside the retail area. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • More prettiness on view inside the retail area.

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