Wednesday January 3, 2007 | 0 comments
Portland, Oregon is a unique city in that it has all the joys and the annoyances of a large city, but maintains many neighborhoods, each one unique and providing sense of connectivity to the inhabitants. These neighborhoods cluster around a main street or two of businesses that each play a unique role in the life of the neighborhood. No large chains here. A Cuban Restaurant; a bookstore; a French bakery; a barber; a used clothing store; a bicycle shop; an antique dealer; an Indian Restaurant . . . share one side of the block. The other side has an equally eclectic mix, throw in a cheese store and furniture restoration shop. Many people walk from shop to shop, greeting the owners and employees by name.
Just a few blocks away are houses, bungalows built in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Warmed by an enormous oil furnace in the full basement; these had two bedrooms, a bath, tiny kitchen, spacious living/dining room on the first floor; and a full, open upstairs – frequently converted into another bedroom or two to accommodate the expanding Boomer family. The houses are similar, but each is distinct. Portland has at least six of these neighborhoods, friendly places where real people live.
Comfortable Commercial district surrounded by homes lived in and loved by four generations. . . the stage is set to go into one of these homes, right?
Michelle scheduled a tea tasting with Paul Rosenberg, and it was in front of Paul’s modest bungalow a few blocks off the main street that we parked. Leaving our shoes in the entry way, we were warmly greeted by Paul, and led up stairs to his tea den. Beautiful Indian and Asian artwork, sculpture, textiles and crafts were thoughtfully displayed on the walls and on shelves set into the kneewall. Pleasant incense smoke wafted through the air. We were welcomed to sit on cushions around a beautiful cross-cut slab of maple. Fresh cedar boughs decorated the surface. Paul talked about his connection to tea and his passion for sharing great tea with people, “Tea is such a beautiful beverage, taking on the characteristics of the climate, the altitude, the soil, the water-” his hands wove in and out of each other as they described a steep tea plantation, “- even what is growing on the next slope!”
Arranged in front of him on the floor were a gallon of bottled water, hotplate, a silver tea pot; several glass teapots; and beautiful utensils. He selected the first tea. “A green pu’erh, quite rare.” He showed it to us: two leaves and a bud! “We usually imagine pu’erh as a formed cake. . . ” While the tea steeped, he told about tea’s ability to open the body and the mind. The tea was subtle and sweet, through three steepings and numerous little cups. At once I felt that my abysmal LACK of knowledge was not going to be judged by this gentle and genuine man.
Next, Paul opened a shiny bright packet of Oolong. While the water heated again, he told us about his beautiful glass teapots, “I bought these in Eugene, at the Saturday Market. They were made by a local artisan. I love the subtle tints of different minerals in the glass.” He steeped the tea in a beautiful silver pot, hand-hammered with an ivory handle and when poured into one of the glass teapots for serving, the color of the liquor in the pot turned a gorgeous shade of amethyst as reflected through the crafted glass pot. “The handles are too small,” he pointed out, “but the pots rest perfectly in the palm of my hand. It is so important, I think, that the pots and cups and tools used for making tea are beautiful.” We sipped the oolong, which was mild at first, very satisfying as steeping times increased, and finished with a hint of sandalwood.
Next was a pu’erh from 1981, wrapped in a sheet of paper and looking, when unwrapped, like an over baked whole grain muffin. “This tea opens people up, literally. It opens the chest and the heart.” Again, his hands circulated through the air in front of him, like a pair of birds. “You can steep this tea up to thirty times!” He pinched off a piece about the size of a ping pong ball, and placed it into yet another glass pot. The liquor from this tea reflected a deep indigo in the glass pot, and when poured, took on the color of the purest and clearest espresso. The first cups tasted of mushrooms and clean black earth. Not at all unpleasant, with each little cup I could feel my bronchial passages and my diaphragm warm and open, just as he had promised. “Tea,” Paul told us, “is a way to share your love and regard for a person by sharing your love of tea.” We drank cup after cup of this nectar, chatting about art and tea and woodworking.
All good things must come to an end, and after ninety enchanted minutes with this tea master, we took our leave. As we drove out of the quiet neighborhood, I could not help but think that Paul is one of those rare people who with their daily tea practice and ritual, manage to practice the Eightfold Path: right faith; right life; right language; right purpose; right practice; right effort; right thinking; and right meditation. Thank you, Paul.