On a recent trip to California, I decided to stop in Santa Cruz and enjoy the sea air for the afternoon.  After some time wandering about on the cliff paths and taking photos of the wildflowers, I headed into town to check out a new tea shop I had heard of.  It’s called Hidden Peak Tea House, and it’s been open less than two months.  The shop is aptly named; although it’s not on a mountain, it’s located in a pretty, secluded plaza just off the busy shopping area on Pacific Street.  It took me a few minutes to find it, but it was well worth the effort.

My first impression upon entering was that I had been magically transported back to one of the many tea shops I visited in China.  Hidden Peak is more spacious than many of the Chinese tea shops I’ve been to, but it had the same  warm colors and quiet ambience.  I felt almost instantly calm and relaxed as I made my way further into the shop.

The front of the shop is given over to the sale of tea and teaware, with a wide selection of traditional Chinese teaware, including Yi Xing tea sets and other beautiful pots.  The back section holds a seating area, with groupings of tables, chairs, and sofas that invite you to come in and relax.  I took a photo of the seating area before I read the small sign at the entrance of the seating area that proclaimed it a “digital free zone.”  My first thought was, “Wow, how is that going to work?” but then I thought about it and it began to make sense.  I can see that making the effort to preserve the sense of calm that tea can bring will only be enhanced by freedom from incessant beeping, ring tones, and glowing screens.

After I was seated at a lovely Chinese-style table, I perused the menu.  They have a wide selection of traditional teas – green, white, yellow, black, and oolong – but the real excitement is in the pu-erh selection.  In most tea shops, you might see a handful of pu-erh teas, but at Hidden Peak, they must have twenty.  They range from a simple tuo-cha to aged, artisanal pu-erh bricks, with a price range to match.  I picked the “7572,” which was described as “Highly refined famous formula tea.  Choicest raw materials with artful crafting.  Smooth, deep and elegant” – I had to try it.

I ordered the tea in a gaiwan, and when it came, the server explained that they had done the first rinse, and asked me if I was familiar with using a gaiwan.  I said I was, but she nicely gave me a quick demo just to be sure.  They brought additional hot water in a thermos bottle, which I thought was a great innovation.  I sniffed the wet leaves before filling the gaiwan for the first steeping, and found notes of chocolate and leather.  Fairly typical of many pu-erhs, but there wasn’t a lot of earthiness – just a very clean smell.  The first steeping reinforced those aromas, and the taste followed through.  It was a smooth, clear cup, with rich undertones reminiscent of mushroom.

The next few steepings didn’t disappoint.  I continued to read the menu as I was sipping, and found quite a few more teas I wanted to try.  I spoke to one of the servers, asking her where they sourced their pu-erhs.  She explained that the owner had spent some time in China learning about pu-erh from a tea master, and had made many connections there.  Quite a few of the teas were from one source, who crafts artisan pu-erh tea, but there were others from a range of sources.  I could feel the enthusiasm from Dawn as well as the other server.  They both clearly love tea and are happy to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their customers.  

I wanted to stay to try a few more teas on the menu – most of which are available as a tea bowl, tea glass, gaiwan, or pot – but unfortunately I had a long drive ahead of me and needed to leave.  I did buy a sampling of the 7572 pu-erh to bring home with me, and fill a hole in my tea cabinet.  I needed an excellent pu-erh to complement my oolong, black, and green teas, and I definitely found one.  I also found a lovely hidden gem of a tea shop, which I look forward to returning to many times.