Expected tea is an event to look forward to; unexpected tea is a surprise joy.
I had heard from a couple of people that Denong had opened a teahouse in the area. I had first experienced their tea at the Los Angeles International Tea Festival. They specialize in puerh tea and what I tasted at the fest was lovely and memorable. I made a mental note to visit their shop. Weeks later on a holiday I was exploring in the area I heard it was in. I thought why not at least see where it is even though they won’t be open. [Note - if you are not familiar with puerh you may want to start with this post.
The shop is subtly placed, discovered by aligned chance or with focused intent. The sign on the door said ‘open’. I thought, “no way, they must have left the sign flipped”. Then I noticed the door was cracked open too. I couldn’t see anyone inside, but entered anyway. I am very glad I did. Jeffrey came out to greet me. I had picked the perfect time for a first experience as there was no one else there this late on a holiday night.
The space is spacious and open while feeling welcoming and intimate. It is a live room with a good dose of ping, so I am curious to experience the music of it at a busy time. The beautiful wood furniture is minimalist and elegant. The cabinets are filled with teaware, art and tea including a puerh cake from 1996. I didn’t look through all of it though. I thought I’d save myself some treasures for the next time I visit. There are pictures on the walls of the company founder, workers, the tea gardens and other tea houses that tell a story of Denong’s evolution.
The menu is of two parts - the main menu listing: Raw selections, Ripe selections, Famous Mountain list and their single, unique black tea; and the recent harvest menu. Jeffrey told me that list will eventually move to the main menu when a new harvest menu arrives. Prices listed are for a tasting and for a cake of the tea. There is even a Reserve & Vintage tasting session available.
I described to Jeffrey some of the flavors/notes I was interested in at the moment (much like describing wine): minerally, some earthiness but not mushroom-y, and a bit of sweetness. He suggested three teas to me and I chose Commemorative Edition 2016 from the Raw menu.
While the kettle was boiling Jeffrey walked me over to a wall of photos and gave me a brief rundown of Denong’s history and highlights. We talked a lot about the lack of information about tea. How a consumer must become self-educated to be able to acquire quality tea, which is one of my goals. He said the he himself had gone through a rough time trying to acquire quality tea, even becoming ill at one point from poor quality tea. This is particularly important with puerh as it is the only tea that can be aged. If aged properly puerh has health benefits and even becomes an investment worth a hefty amount of dosh. If processed or stored improperly, instead of the beneficial enzymes puerh is prized for, unhealthy bacteria can invade the tea.
One of the elements I appreciate about Denong is that the company is part of the whole process. They own tea gardens and there is no mystery step between those and where the tea is sold. That is gold! To know where the tea you are drinking is grown, how it is grown, how it is harvested, even to the cleanliness of the facility in which it is processed and stored - every step through to your drinking of it. It is a rare thing.
Jeffrey described how employees who work directly with the tea change clothes multiple times a day (I believe he said 3 times a shift) and he showed me a picture of them wearing masks and hair coverings and gloves - all intended to keep unwanted smells and contaminants from the tea.
The experience of having the tea was enhanced by beautiful teaware and a focused reverential serving. It looked like there was a galaxy at the bottom of the gorgeous glass cup. I got the feeling that here you could meditate while having your tea, or as I did, have a great conversation about the notes and the joy of it. It is very cool to be served tea by someone who knows so much about it and has a clear passion for it without pretense. Jeffrey was great!
Spring water was used and the tea given a quick rinse, but considering Denong’s practices this was probably one of the cleanest puerhs I have ever had. There were 5 steepings and as the tea opened up I went from feeling like I was walking through a forest after a light rain to sitting on rocks that have been washed by ocean tides. The notes of earthiness, minerality and sweetness all hit at different times.
Jeffrey put the leaves in a biodegradable container for me as I suspected they had more flavor to give (I did some more steepings that night). I love that. I look forward to working my way through their menu.
If you love puerh or want to start exploring it you can check out my earlier puerh post - A Puerh Primer and visit Denong online or at one of their locations in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or in the US - one location in Pasadena with another coming to the westside of LA in 2019!
This is not a sponsored post
One of Greater Los Angeles’ very cool evolving areas is Highland Park. From music venues with an independent community scene, to vegan cafes, to dollar stores, to long standing local favorites to new privately owned specialty shops Highland Park is eclectic and surprising. I became intrigued by this area when hosting for the Youbloom music festival at the Hi Hat. Recently I felt the urge to do more exploring there. Interestingly, the very first place I discovered after parking was Wild Terra - an herbal apothecary with a small, carefully curated tea section. They had only been open a week. The owner Danielle Noe and I got talking about a mutual love of tea. She said Earl Grey was her ‘comfort food’ growing up.
The energy. The serendipity. I had to do a blog on this place.
Even better for this tea and entertainment blog, Danielle has a wild background as a special effects makeup artist having worked on some stuff you may have heard of - HBO’s True Blood and the Aquaman film, for example. As a matter of fact, the windows at the back of the shop were from Merlotte’s bar! (see the gallery below) Man, TV and film are everywhere in this town. So cool.
From Bon Temps to Herbs and Tea
Danielle has a clear love for herbs and spices, how they grow and what they can do for the body. Most of what she carries herb-wise is from California and all of it is organic. She even grows some herself. There are two sections of wall dedicated to herbs and spices including 3 types of Holy Basil, Damiana, Mugwort, Skullcap and on and on.
Tea-wise the selection is small but carefully chosen. Some of the teas are from Biodynamic farms, most are organic except for those from Africa which are Fair Trade. She orders directly from some of the estates including Bitaco, a certified organic tea farm from Columbia which has been growing tea for 60 years. Danielle shared their Tippy Negro 2 with me which reminded me of a light Yunnan - smooth and mellow and the color of liquid amber. She has multiple teas from Kenya, including the new purple tea (read more on what that is here). She has an organic Assam from India and some compelling Chinese teas. There are teas from Japan on the way too.
Included in the tea wall are Yerba Mate, and the only US native plant with caffeine, Yaupon. It is in the same holly genus as Yerba Mate and Guayusa and contains similar amounts of caffeine. Danielle also carries two types of Coffee Leaf, regular and mango scented. Yes, there is such a thing as coffee leaf that is steeped like tea! Crazy! (I got to do some tasting and will share that part of the experience in a separate post).
Other Unique Finds
Wild Terra has a variety of mushrooms including whole Reishi mushrooms which look like some pre-historic relic (see pic). She makes tinctures from them too with a triple extraction process:
Wild Terra also carries:
So go get your tea and herb on in this little gem in Highland Park! Tell Danielle the Tea Deviant sent you;)
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