Friday, May 20, 2011

A Time for Tea

At the Tea Farm Cafe in Moili’ili, you’re greeted simultaneously by the person behind the counter and a rather imposing wall of teas. A few dozen black, green, white and oolong teas and several tisanes stare down from their orderly shelves, samples that showcase how different each one really is. Pick up a canister that intrigues you, shake it around, smell it. Pick up another… and somehow eventually decide which one will fill your cup. 

I like popping off all the lids and looking at the leaves. So many different colors and textures. Fuzzy white tea needles; large, crinkly oolong leaves; the uniquely-colored Golden Monkey tea. Each would brew up a completely different tasting liquor. Which way should we go today?

Brooke wanted to try a green tea, so I scanned the shelves, looking for a good one. Ooh, they have Dragon Well! I grab the canister and just as I start singing its praises to her, the owner, too far away to hear me, suggests she try the same tea. I knew I liked this place…. Brooke’s sold, so he starts preparing her cup.

I’ve always been fascinated by Dragon Well (Longjing, in Chinese). First of all, it’s a visually beautiful tea, both before and during infusion. Its leaves are pan-fired flat, looking almost as if they’d been ironed, all neat and tidy. While brewing, they open up and seem to regain their pre-plucked freshness. (Indeed, Brooke’s leaves looked vibrant, as if they were dancing in her cup.) And its liquor? Rich, nutty, gorgeous.

I actually had wanted to visit Hangzhou, the land of Longjing, while I was in China. The thought of wandering along the banks of its West Lake enchanted me. And drinking a steaming cup of Longjing tea at its source? What could be better? Here are a couple of Wikimedia Commons photos to show you just how lovely this corner of China really is.

This one’s by Jakub Hałun
And this one’s by Louisa Salazar

Okay, back to Honolulu now….

As for me, I decided to go the pu-erh route. Hey, if Brooke was going to have a magical tea, so was I. After hearing my pick, the owner asked if I wanted the loose-leaf pu-erh or some from the cake he had in the back. I only ever had pu-erh in the solid form, whether chipped from a large cake by a friend of a friend at his Oakland apartment or the cute, individually-wrapped mini cakes from Peet’s. So yes, cake please!

Pu-erh’s an amazing tea with a deep, earthy taste that, unlike most teas, actually improves with age. It also seems to have an acquired taste, as Brooke wasn’t nearly as fond of it as she was her Dragon Well. Okay, I’m fairly certain she hated it. But in my digging around the Internet, I’ve found some passionate pro pu-erh folks, including the man who created this amazing homage to the dark tea.

While Brooke’s tea leaves were sprightly and alive, mine were a bit lethargic, choosing instead to sit there and quietly steep. It didn't brew up as darkly as it could have, but was still nice.

To make things fair for my tea after posting those lovely Hangzhou pics, here’s a shot of a tea field in Yunnan Province in China, where pu-erh is grown, taken by a Flickr user called inyucho. Check out his “Sets” but be prepared to experience major travel-envy….

And here’s a shot of the pu-erh and plum bubble tea that I had at Chamate (一茶一坐) in Shanghai. So good!

As my tea continued to brew, the café slowly started filling up with people. But instead of being energized by this patron infusion, the atmosphere remained calm and quiet, with most seats filled with college kids studying. Silent cafés seem to be a Moili’ili thing, in my experience. Still, it was a pleasant setting to catch up in, so we were happy.

Being a thoughtful wife, Brooke decided to grab an iced green tea latte for her husband before we left. She also had a bunch of tea questions for the man behind the counter, which gave me a chance to shoot them without being noticed….

Coffee or tea? Given the name of this blog, I’m sure you’ve figured out that I usually opt for the former. Every so often, though, my taste shifts teaward. It’s nice to know there’s a spot out here to sit and watch the leaves brew.

The Tea Farm Cafe
2600 South King Street, Suite 106, Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 945-2679

Monday, May 2, 2011

Memory Sipping

I’m really not sure when I stopped drinking flavored lattes. I guess to the coffee purist, they seem somehow… wrong. But how is a café mocha okay and a hazelnut latte not? Or perhaps mochas are also on the taboo list….

Back in my early coffee drinking days, I loved ordering almond lattes. Something about the smell of the orgeat syrup as it warmed up in my drink, mmm. That scent memory had nearly been forgotten until last Sunday, when I ventured out to Kailua to check out ChadLou’s.

The first thing I spotted on their drink list was the Kula Latte.  Kula’s an area on Maui known for growing lavender, and the drink brought together lavender with a bit of vanilla. Hmm, I like that blend in a body cream, but would it work well with coffee? The lavender-strawberry macaron I had the other day was great and all, but I was still skeptical so I asked the barista about it. Customers seemed to like it, he said, but he wasn’t fond of it. Yay, honesty! Then what drink did he like? Keeping in the flavored latte genre, he suggested going for the almond-raspberry.

Sipping it, my taste buds shot me back to my first café job in Charlottesville, Virginia. My fellow baristas and I would experiment with the syrup rack when it was slow, coming up with inventive lattes and Italian sodas. The winning concoctions were then written on the “Drink of the Moment” board we posted next to the counter.  I’m sure almond-raspberry was an early pairing, before we started experimenting with more bizarre flavor combos.

Actually, this shop has the same basic feel as my C-Ville café, with local art displayed on the walls, live music some nights and a variety of funky seating options, including couches. 

Couches are a necessary element in a great coffeehouse, in my opinion. It’s social seating, urging people to comfy up for a conversation. Why aren’t there more couch cafés out here? 

According to their website, one of ChadLou’s big draws is their ice cream sandwiches. A frozen case filled with tubs of local favorite Dave’s Ice Cream sits next to a pastry case stocked with cookies. Pick a pair of cookies (mix and match flavors, whatever you like), choose your ice cream (the ube or purple yam seems to be a popular choice, making for a pretty-colored dessert) and then yum away! I’m not sure if I could do ice cream and a coffee at the same time. Well, affogato is a different story. Wait, that sounds good right about now….

Honestly, this is the kind of coffeehouse I’d like to see more of on Oahu. The independent, quirky kind. Sophisticated coffee is great, and may offer up a superior cup, but if I don’t feel like I can settle into a seat and write or meet up with a girlfriend and split something decadent, I won’t go back often. If only I lived closer to this one….

Here’s the view from the street.

And here’s the building across the street. ChadLou's is in Kailua’s slightly more industrial area.

 Since I was in Kailua, I also stopped by FatBoy’s. I’m addicted to their garlic chicken.

Then I drove around aimlessly for a while listening to Hawaii Public Radio. It was a random but good afternoon.

45 Kihapai Street, Kailua, HI 96734
(808) 263-7930

FatBoy’s Local Drive-In
301A Hahani Street, Kailua, HI 96734 (There are other locations around Oahu)
(808) 263-2697