Now that I’m in Seattle I have been visiting all the local tea shops. I wished I checked out more tea shops while in LA (like all 4 of them, geeze), but awesomely Seattle has a lot of tea shops!
For the first few weeks I was staying within walking distance to Pike Place Market. A block away from Pike Place Market is TWO Vital Tea Leaf shops, one north and one south. I went to the south one, close to the Target. Another day while in the International District, I saw they were opening yet another location in Seattle.
Besides Seattle, Vital Tea Leaf have shop(s?) in San Francisco as well as an online store. They certainly have a bit of reddit/tea community hype due to a tea with a ridiculous name – Blue People Ginseng Oolong. It isn’t popular due to the weird name, but it’s apparently is a community favorite ginseng oolong.
Walking into Vital Tea Leaf they have signs up for Free Tea Tasting! Their tea tasting is a long series of tables as they do a lot of tastings for the people who pass by. While I was there, there was a food tasting group walking by as well. Strangely, they do their tea tastings with multiple plastic kamjove/gravity steeper style filters, dispensing into glass pitchers. They only took out a gaiwan when we did puer. That steeping method was likely the most convenient way to do tea tasting for a flock of tourists, but the visual was quite poor.
Of course, I was served Blue People Oolong first, being told it was their best seller. I personally did not get the hype of this tea, it’s a ginseng oolong – try one and you know what I am talking about as they all have that gross sweet licorice taste. (I will not apologize for the snark, there’s only a few teas I cannot stand and ginseng oolong is one of them.)
I also tried pretty standard teas like a Genmaicha, Jasmine White, Rose herbal, and a Chinese black. They were gonna stop there, but I asked we get the full spectrum and try a shou puer. We tried a newer shou, then a couple people there were impressed, which lead to trying a 10 year shou to see if people can taste the difference. The 10 year shou was a wet storage basement taste and distinctly different, which was really fun to talk about with the other tasting customers who haven’t tried pu’er before.
I checked out their pu’er cakes and found this one that interested me –
I was able to have them make it for me and it was good that I wanted some, but the price was very high and they wouldn’t let me buy smaller than half a cake. They were saying it was a Lao Ban Zhang, but it was also labelled as literally everything else so I had doubts (plus I’m not up to speed on what is real for LBZ).
Unfortunately, I would call Vital Tea Leaf more of a Chinese traditional medicine + tourist shop. They are used to dealing with customers who know very little about loose leaf tea, so I felt a bit awkward talking with the staff (they warned me twice about that sheng – “You sure you want to drink that, you know that is a raw puer right?”). The staff almost exclusively talked about health benefits of each tea, nothing about the taste or feel, just what the tea can magically cure you for, like what energizes, helps you lose weight (5-10 lbs in one month!), clear your skin, and ease digestion. As a side note, a tea buddy said he once went to a Vital Tea Leaf at a different location and there was much talk about one tea that gives smooth poops – I wish I heard that one in person, I would be unable to stop myself from laughing!
Once the staff recognized I was a more experienced tea drinker and asked about what health benefits I’ve noticed and I ruined everything with, “I’ve noticed very little health benefits, I only drink tea because it tastes good.”
They had some nice teaware and lots of decorative pu’er cakes, but nothing had prices on them, only their tea had prices.
That said, when you visit Seattle, chances are you will encounter at least one Vital Tea Leaf. I would check them out if you are already at Pike Place Market, don’t mind some bartering on teaware, or want some basic Chinese tea offerings (they did have that Genmaicha, which was odd), but I wouldn’t go out of your way for it if you want something unique. I think I will try them one more time to get a look closer at their teaware and hopefully avoid the health benefit spam, unless I get the smooth poops talk – I want to hear all about that so I can see if I can resist cracking up.
So far it seems there is a lot of competition in Seattle for tea shops – many that aren’t medicine focused or tourist flocked. More Hooty Tea Travel tea shop posts to come!