I’m usually a pretty positive person, but I can’t believe how difficult it is to find a decent cup of tea in Santa Cruz. I’ve been singing the praises of kukicha lately because the taste resembles that of gyokuro without the cost or the water cooling nonsense. I had been ordering tea from a great little tea house back in Vermont, but because my stash is dwindling, I figured it was time to replenish it locally.
Our first stop was at Chaikhana Tea Culture. Now I realize that this shop specializes in Chinese pu-erh teas, but was a bit surprised when the proprietor told me that kukicha is hard to come by and implied that I could find it with low-grade teas in the supermarket. Yes, kukicha is made from the stems, stalks and twigs of sencha, but is surely not to be compared with tea dust or fannings. Instead, he then offered me roasted kukicha, which tastes more like bancha than the sweet, grassiness of gyokuro.
Unsatisfied we made our way to Asana Teas. I inquired about their kukichas but the gentleman behind the counter confused my request with kokeicha, a man-made tea with needle-like leaves formed from powdered tea. No kuckicha, but surprisingly they carry gyokuro. Overcome with disappointment and desperation, I decided it was time treat myself to a pot of gyokuro to soothe the pain of not finding my precious tea. But I really should have known better because the tea was stored in an oversized canister and the leaves lacked the typical dark grassy green color and sweet aroma that one would expect.
A few minutes later my very large pot of tea arrived, and the same gentleman informed me that the tea had already been steeping for about 1-3/4 minutes and should steep for another 2 minutes longer. Panicking I poured the tea into my equally oversized cup and discovered the temperature of the water to be about 190 degrees. I was too late, as the leaves had stewed. Lifting the lid from the teapot I found a cramped diffusing area, not allowing the leaves sufficient room to expand. In two short minutes my $10 pot of tea was ruined.
I understand that this was probably just some kid from the University working a part-time job, but I cannot believe that the owners of a tea house would not school their employees in the correct ways to make a cup or pot of tea. The use of thermometers, timers and teaware appropriate to the types of tea would be a simple solution to this problem. And, to all those people that are new to tea or who may not know better, what they think is already a great cup of tea, when prepared and served correctly, would blow their minds.