Saturday, 26 November 2011

tea awakening in the Chicago Tea Garden

Chicago Tea Garden
Several weeks ago, one of my non-teadrinker friends, who happens to live in Chicago, had signed up for a tea tasting at Chicago Tea Garden. My ears perked up and because I write this teablog partially for the tea newcomer and the tea curious, I asked Sue (@sepilipa) if she'd take a notebook along with her to the tea tasting and record her impressions. Sue, being the eager scientist that she is, quickly agreed. For the sake of science. And my teablog.

So because of her diligence, I can essentially mail it in today. Or cut and paste. Thanks Sue. First of all, here's the inside of Chicago Tea Garden:

Here's what she had to say:
First let me say my expectation was that Tony (Gebely) would be a much older guy, but he's probably younger than I am. He was very welcoming to my friend and me and to the other group of five ladies that attended (they were together). His shop is small but cute and his table was set up so there were essentially two groups; one on either side of the center where he worked. The people were all tea novices and there were no mr-know-it-alls in the group, so everyone was comfortable and friendly.

Tony worked on a tea table and had us use a snifter cup for each tea. He gave us basic tea information as he went along and was quite knowledgeable. He told us what plant tea comes from (Camellia sinensis) and told us that everything that does not come from this plant is NOT tea (I didn't know that). 

He briefly described the leaf and anything significant about it each time we started a new tea (ie, white tea smells very floral because it's withered a long time, oolong leaves are bruised and have 15 processing steps, black is fully oxidized, etc). Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. My friend and I had a very good time and learned a lot....well, relatively speaking, of course.

Below are the 7 teas we tasted. 

Name: Wu yu 
Type: green
Notes: used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @ 175F; tasted a bit like dusty spinach to me. 
2nd steeping @175; a little less dusty tasting but I still didn't love it. 

Name: Silver Needle
Type: white
Notes: kinda furry,  used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @ 175F; light and feathery, not a strong flavor but enough of a flavor to keep me interested. This one was my favorite of the whole bunch. 

Name: Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy)
Type: oolong
Notes: rolled into little balls, used unglazed clay pots to serve
1st steeping @ 190F for 45 seconds; smelled a bit like a root vegetable; I could barely taste it.
2nd steeping @190F for 45 seconds;; felt "meh" about it.

Name: Mi Xiang (honey orchid flavor)
Type: oolong
Notes: rolled long ways, used unglazed clay pots to serve
1st steeping @ 190 for 45 seconds; darker in color, tasted a bit earthy
2nd steeping @190 for 45 seconds; more flavorful. I definitely like the second steeping better than the first.

Name: Golden Bi Luo (tiny snails)
Type: black
Notes: hand rolled into snail shapes,  used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @195F  (instructed not to steep longer than a minute or the tea would be bitter); smelled ricey to me but Tony said "malty vanilla finish".
2nd steeping @ 195F ; sweeter and smoother taste, a nice strong flavor. I liked the second steeping better.

Name: Chrysanthemum Toucha
Type: pu-erh
Notes: bird nest shaped; Tony said it makes a good cold brew,  used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @ 208C for 45 sec to 1 min; Very dark. Tasted like a forest floor. A comment was made from one of the other attendants that it was like "licking the bark of a tree". I did not care for this tea at all. He made another one that was even darker and more disgusting but I didn't write down it's name.

Name: Yue Guang Bai (moonlight)
Type: white
Notes: Hmm. curiously I didn't make one single note about this one except it's name and type. I don't know why.
1st and 2nd steeping @ 175F for 1 minute

Really nice descriptions for a tea novice, don't you think? I think Sue did an excellent job. Although she's still a coffee drinker with a healthy curiosity about tea, I wonder how long it might take us to lure her over to the leaf-side. Thank you again my Cubs-loving, bicycling, outsdoorsy friend.

Tony Gebely and our staff tea reviewer


  1. Very interesting account . I like how she wasn't afraid to be critical if the tea wasn't quite to her liking. But as a Chicago resident and more importantly a Cubs fan, I would expect nothing less.

  2. A very nice and concisely written tea tasting report! I've never been to one myself (I see myself as a bit of a heretic, tea-wise), and usually just drink whatever tea I fancy, which at the moment is Earl Grey, Lady Grey or some non-specific Chinese green tea with lotus flowers that I bought at the local oriental grocery shop (well, at least it was loose leaf, @lahikmajoe!).

    Having lived in Britain for the last 10-11 years, I've grown accustomed to drinking bagged tea (don't curse!) even though I still don't take milk in my tea. I have to draw the line somewhere, after all!

    I would like to try white tea, though. It sounds interesting..

  3. I want to go to a tea tasting. That looks really fun! Plus, the possibly of guest starring in this blog makes it even more appealing. I am taking action.

  4. Ah, I shall recommend to my Chi-town family!

  5. I didn't know Tony had his own space yet. That's amazing. Go him!

    Yue Guang Bai is pretty rough as far as white teas go. Like an Indian white that isn't Darjeeling. I liked it, though.

  6. I'm envious! A long, relaxing conversation-filled tea tasting is one of life's greatest pleasures especially when the hosts have passion for what they do and share their knowledge with guests. I wish I had been there!

  7. John, when I'm stateside, I follow the Cubs.

    Heinakroon, white tea can be really quite good. I'll think about the best introductory white tea for a future blogpost.

    Lisa, for the sake of teablogging and humour in general, we need to get you to a tea tasting.

    Steph, I'm sure they'll enjoy it. Looks like a great place.

    Geoff and Gustia, nice, eh? We should keep talking about this place.

  8. I was also surprised when I learned that Tony is as young as he is. He has an impressive level of knowledge about tea, but more impressive to me, I think, is his level of organizational and business know-how. I'm excited to see his company doing well and growing organically.