Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tea, tea and some mysterious dried things.

Grant Avenue is the heart of San Francisco's Chinatown.  When I polled San Franciscans about where I should go to get good tea, they unanimously said, "Chinatown!"  I am glad I followed their recommendation, because Grant Avenue is where its at.

There are many, many tea shops along the street, with all of them offering free tea samples.  When I say "free sample", I am really underselling what it is they do for you.

Free tea sample, the ones I experienced at least, meant you were welcome to come into their store, pick out the teas that interested you and they would prepare them for you following traditional tea ceremony/preparation.  For free.  As many kinds as you wanted to try.  Holy smokes!

I really love tea, so it was a bit overwhelming.  Much like the first time I walked into Rhinebeck, I felt nearly incapacitated by the sheer volume of what I love being concentrated in a small space and having to sort through it all and pick just a few special ones to take home with me.  The pressure!  I found it especially serendipitous that my friend Becky and I were having this experience together.  Becky and I have been together for every single one of my Rhinebeck trips (most recently in 2009) AND we were having this experience at the same time as Rhinebeck was happening on the other side of the country.  (We missed you, Jamie!)

After going in and out of the first tea shop feeling unable to decide where to start, we ended up at Ten Ren.  We meant to scout out the whole stretch before starting to sample, but Anthony at Ten Ren hooked us! He was very patient and took us through the range of Pu'erh tea that the shop carried.  I had read a lot about them and enjoyed trying the range from mild (young), medium (aged 25 years) to strong (aged 50 years). This was Becky's first tea tasting/ceremony!  We smelled and sampled and then decided we should probably not spend the ENTIRE day there, even though it was mighty tempting to just keep sipping away the time.

Thanks for the picture, Anthony!  This was the only picture we got of the two of us together!

After a side trip for a mooncake (me) and a pork bun (Becky), we found a second tea tasting spot.  We had our eyes out for this one as it was Ned's recommendation. Red Blossom Tea Company was very approachable as the canisters of tea had great descriptions on them and the staff was knowledgeable.  We sampled a few teas here, too.  At this store, I focused on tasting smoked teas and jasmine tea.

After visiting both shops, I ended up with a small assortment of a variety of teas (jasmine, herbal, green/flowering and tisane) to take home with me.

Chinatown had a lot more to offer than tea.  The buildings are striking.

The murals and signage are plentiful.

The street is bustling and the cable car passes through the middle of it all.

The morning didn't have the best (or much) natural light to offer, but sometimes the grey fits the scene.

Many, many shops sold roots, herbs, mushrooms and tons of other dried offerings. It was amazing (and saddening) to me how many dead creatures were for sale in one small store.  I think these are some type of scallop.  I saw dried shark fin for sale in some stores and one person told me I couldn't take pictures of something in the shop.  Sort of makes me wonder how much of what is for sale is above board and how much is black market.

An aside, I pushed my comfort level when it comes to photographing strangers on this trip.  Unfortunately, this potentially awesome shot came about when I had the wrong lens on my camera.  The focus is all off, but this fantastically dreadlocked man was selling orchids out of basket on his bike. It seemed he was delivering to shop owners on Grant (not selling to the public).  After I took this picture, he gave me a look that said, "Don't" so I didn't push it. I gotta get better with manual focus, so I can force whatever lens is on my camera to work in a situation like this.

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