Last month I enjoyed a “Stay-to-play” adventure at my local Park Hyatt Hotel, an oasis in DC. Just a quick walk down the street for me, my trip was easy and safe.
The Park Hyatt DC embodies the best of American Shaker design for a space that soothes. Their rooms and suites are very comfortable and, I must say, their bathtubs are exceptional too!
While there, I enjoyed an immersion into all things related to tea! I had the unique pleasure of enjoying a private tour of their rare tea cellar. Truly a sight to see and to experience, their tea collection features 35 extraordinarily rare teas as well as aged and vintage teas. They are all neatly organized by type, scent, and brewing temperature!
The history of tea informs the entire experience, and if you want a mini-escape that brings the world of Bridgerton to the present, I highly recommend.
Do you know the difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea?
Afternoon Tea evolved around 1840 in England. The seventh Duchess of Bedford did not like to be hungry between her lunch and dinner, so she began to enjoy a snack with tea, bread, and butter to hold her over. Soon she started inviting friends to make it a social event where the upper-class wore gorgeous, formal attire. And Afternoon Tea became a small meal for the late afternoon or early evening. Afternoon Tea is the traditional English ritual served at such hotels such as the Ritz London.
In contrast, High Tea is a more substantial meal and generally just for immediate family. Tea was expensive for the working class and not to be wasted. When a worker returned home around 6 pm in the evening, they would partake in High Tea which would consist of mug of tea, bread, vegetables, cheese and occasionally meat. Sometimes more substantial fare such as pies, potatoes and crackers would also be included. Less a social ritual than a real meal, High Tea is still served as a meal upon returning home from work in parts of Scotland and Northern England.
When did tea ceremonies begin in China?
Asian tea ceremonies initially evolved in China. Social gatherings centered on these special rituals – either in conjunction with a wedding or other celebrations or simply for welcoming a guest into their homes. Legend has it, the first emperor of ancient China, Shennong, discovered tea over 5,000 years ago. During the Tang Dynasty 1200 years ago, we find the first written records of a tea ceremony. Underlying the tradition is a spiritual respect for nature. Monks also originated the ceremonies for tea consumption and recognized the medicinal benefit of tea.
Today, teas such as Bubble Milk Tea, Butter Tea from Tibet, Hong Kong-style Milk Tea, Thai Iced Tea, and Japanese Matcha are favorites in Asia – all with distinct tastes and flavors.
Green tea is renowned in Hangzhou, a prominent city near Shanghai. With a grassy aroma and a sharp taste, green tea offers calming and wellness effects. Hangzhou is considered a healing place because of the great, mountainous terrain. The climate there is incredibly cool and dry but also very windy which allows the tea leaves to dry quickly. In the Spring and Summer, the heavy rainfall cultivates very rich soil, prime for growing tea leaves.
After listening and understanding more about the history of tea, I got to try them! My guide challenged me to guess the flavor of various teas only by scent – no pressure!
Scenes from my Tea Tasting in the Park Hyatt DC Tea Cellar
Dragon Well | As the purest of the green teas, the tea taste lingered on my palate and was a bit bitter. Green tea does have caffeine but only medium caffeine. Longjing green tea plantations are abundant and famous in Hangzhou, where they produce the infamous Dragon Well tea. According to legend, Dragon Well is named after a local well with the purest of water that “danced like a Chinese dragon after heavy rainfall.” Love that!
Chamomile | This particular tea comes from a flower’s stem and has a very acidic, floral taste. The flavor was light and vibrant. Typically consumed in the late morning or for Afternoon Tea, this tea’s resonance was distinct, intense, and delicious. Originating in both Europe and West Asia, chamomile is a plant that belongs to the daisy family and has soothing medicinal qualities, which means the caffeine count is low to better help with sleep, fight off colds, and soothe stomach problems.
Tropical garden | The final tea in the flight offered me constituted the perfect dessert tea! With a citrusy taste – particularly apple, pear, and apricot – the tea finished with floral, sweet notes. Pineapple, mango, tropical fruits, papaya, peach, and dried apple are all available flavors. It has a fair amount of acidity, a light taste, and is caffeine-free, making it the ideal tea during the evening hours or after a meal when you wish to extend the conversation.
My tour guide then surprised me with a white tea from 1985 as the closer! This extraordinary tea embodied a blend of seven different teas. It’s dark, musky scent evoked truffles too. And wet soil after a beautiful rain. Said to be made just for China’s emperor, the Chinese age this tea for 25 years minimum in a cave. This particular white tea came out of its lair in 2010, has precise brewing times (3.5 minutes exactly), and is the most expensive at $300 a pot!
As an aromatherapist, I am happy to report I passed the smell tests!
Drinking tea is a ritual I relish and one that I incorporate into my daily life. First smashing the leaves, then brewing, filtering, then waiting until you achieve a specific temperature.
The process is almost meditative, and this tea cellar tour at the Park Hyatt in DC was a real treat. So much so that a client is planning a tea party for a group of 8 ladies in her friend pod! And yes, moi, her travel designer, am setting it all up for her.
My Favorite Tea Tools
Tea Forte Kati Steeping Cup This tea cup with an infuser basket is pretty cool. I especially like how the lid holds the basket when you’re done, to catch the drips. I’m seriously considering getting the cherry blossom one, being a DCer!
Blomus 6-1/4-Inch Teastick – This tool is terrific for making a single cup of loose leaf tea.
FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser with Lid – I use this for loose teas I want to aerate the leaves a bit more (usually the stronger flavored teas)
Bodum Chambord SAN Plastic French Press – I know this is for coffee technically, I use a French Press to brew tea. I let the tea and water sit and then push down to filter out the leaves.
Fellow Stagg EKG, Electric Pour-over Kettle For Coffee And Tea – This fancy kettle helps you get the perfect temperature with its precise engineering. It looks good too!
Breville Tea Maker – This machine features an automated tea basket that infuses your tea perfectly. You simply select the type of loose tea you’ve put in the basket and it figures the rest out for you.
Full disclosure :: if you purchase one of my favorite items from this collection, I get some wine money. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you a thing. Thanks so much!