Tai, known in the tea community for her knowledge of Taiwanese oolong, was not always a tea expert. In fact, her livelihood was borne out of pure competition: “My (ex) husband was American and always brewed a pot of tea in the morning,” says the Taiwanese born-and-raised Tai, who brewed a pot only to discover it wasn't as good. “How can this be? I'm from Taiwan, this is Taiwanese tea and a Taiwanese pot – how did he brew this better than me?!”
Tai was lent a book on oolong; the rest is history. Tai immediately connected to Taiwan's reputation for producing the best oolong. She now specializes in it, and is sought out for her knowledge of the varietal. Of the 50 teas Tai's Floating Leaves shop carries, half of them are oolong.
In fact, Tai travels to Taiwan once or twice a year. Her shop's menu is tailored around Taiwan's best two seasons, winter and spring. If one walked into her shop today, the freshest tea would be winter 2016 tea; in May, Tai's menu will offer the spring 2017 harvest.
Buying quite a bit of merchandise overseas can have its challenges – Ballard is a long way from Taiwan. Yet Tai sticks with her local credit union. “BECU is so easy,” says Tai. “I call and say, ‘hey, I'll be in Taiwan,' and money is transferred; I can use my card with no problem – BECU doesn't even charge a foreign-transaction fee! So that's great.”
As to what tea variety this expert recommends? That changes daily. “My insiders know I change my tea frequently,” explains Tai, who delights in sourcing rare and unique teas for her customers. One way Tai connects with novice drinkers is to discover their other interests. “I've found if you are knowledgeable about alcohol, it's easy to relate to tea,” says Tai. The appreciation, history and sourcing is similar. From wine to Scotch and even beer or coffee, if someone names a preferred beverage, Tai has a tea for them.
Ultimately, Tai wants everyone to fall in love with tea just as she has. “When it's a good tea – there are so many layers, so much there, and I want to share it with people.”
Share a cup with Tai at her Floating Leaves tea shop, located at 1704 NW Market St., Seattle.
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