In Ken Kesey’s seminal novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, the climactic point of the novel is what the character Joe Ben describes as a “blessful day”: from breakfast to midnight, everything was not simply “just right” but PERFECT. A “blessful day” happens just once every ten or twenty years, so it is to be cherished and enjoyed for a long time and reflected upon when life’s indignities and challenges seem endless.
I had one of those blessful days just a few weeks ago when I traveled to Portland with Michelle Rabin, CEO of T Ching, and friend extraordinaire. The day centered around tea and friendship, a great combination, no? Michelle chose the tea store, the restaurant, the pastry shop, and the hike, and she did all the driving, with the help of Gwendalyn-the-GPS. I was simply and happily along for the ride.
Our first stop was Serenity Art Tea, a store dedicated almost entirely to tea. On the east wall were scores of jars of loose tea, in front of that were baskets of pu’erh in all sizes and price ranges, sculptures made of pu’erh, cakes of pressed pu’erh hung from the ceiling, kilos of restaurant-grade jasmine tea could be found in huge ziplock bags arranged on shelves. The owner of the store sat at a beautiful table drinking cup after cup. Michelle asked to taste an oolong – my favorite – and he obliged by picking the one he regarded as the best. Practiced hands rinsed the tea, the cups, the pouring pitcher. While the tea steeped, the cups were warmed. Tea was poured and savored. We then turned to the amazing variety of tea pots, tea cups, tea sets. All were beautiful and very reasonably priced. Michelle patiently explained the different applications of each configuration, exclaiming with her musical laugh over this or that treasure. Finally faced with sensory overload, we reluctantly left this oasis of tea and headed off to lunch.
Michelle’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant, just a few blocks away, was our destination. Immediately she ordered a pot of lotus tea, which we sipped as we studied the menu. Assured that everything was good, I had a hard time deciding. The tea and the company were perfect! Michelle advised one of the noodle dishes – an excellent combination of tastes and textures, and perfect with the tea. During lunch we chatted about everything and anything, the time flying faster than our chopsticks.
Our next stop was The Tao of Tea on Belmont Street. Entering the store, one sees many varieties of teas, almost all in tins bearing the store’s name. There are also a few teapots and tea sets for sale. Appealing to an eclectic market, this was the first store where I have seen mate gourds, bombillas and “tea” for sale. (Mate is an herbal infusion native to Argentina and now enjoyed in many parts of the world.) Going through a door in the back of the store lands one in the Indian Restaurant of the same name, and the lovely aromas of cumin, anise, and cardamom greet the visitor. Michelle, with the practiced step of the veteran, took me to the back counter where a young man was drinking tea; he offered us a taste. Again, the respectful ritual of hot water bathing and warming and finally the quick eye contact of tea communion as the tea is consumed.
A few steps west found us in a pastry store. Unfortunately, I cannot think of anything to say about this store except the hackneyed, “I-thought-I-had-died-and-gone-to-heaven.” Michelle knew her way around here, too. Three pieces of pastry were wrapped and bagged, and we headed to our “main event” tea destination of the day: Paul Rosenberg.
Full of love and tea, we allowed Gwendalyn to guide us to Forest Park, a huge park within Portland’s city limits which boasts over 50 miles of hiking trails, some along the merry banks of Balch Creek. Surrounded by maple, fir, pine, cedar and oak trees – we walked onto a beautiful forested path. Ferns, ivy and oxalis grow in profusion.The creek falls at a rate fast enough to drown out any city sounds. We walked for an hour before allowing Gwendalyn to guide us back to the freeway. Content and warm and full of tea and the gift of friendship, I thank you, Michelle, for a Blessful Day.