Archive for Monday, July 16, 2007

At House of Chá, tea is a sensory experience

Eileen Roddy

Eileen Roddy

July 16, 2007


When Fanny Shiau left Taiwan for Kansas on a student exchange program, she set a fascinating love story in motion. After graduating from Eudora High School, she attended Kansas University and met Gary Peterson. They fell in love and returned to Taiwan, where Fanny's family owned a tea plantation.

Gary was smitten by the culture, the people and the tea process, and he wanted to bring it to Kansas. He did. House of Chá at 21 W. Ninth St. was opened to "educate and enhance awareness of the world of tea."

Writing on the window invites us to experience: "A life, a journey. A cup of tea, a sip of rejuvenation."

How could I resist?

I stepped inside, and the doors of my mind were opened with an introduction to Gong Fu Cha - the art and skill of making tea.

Gary welcomed me to a table furnished with an earthenware tray, a clay teapot (which was older than me,) kettle and two smaller pots.

"Clay pots improve with age; they absorb the oil and essence of the tea."

"Maybe I just need to drink more tea?"

We chuckled.

He produced a raw tea leaf.

"Looks like a shamrock."

"Yes. Two leaves with one heart."

When picked, the young leaves are left to wilt in the sun. This oxidization process produces the distinctive aromas and tastes of oolong teas (pronounced wu-long.) House of Chá supplies more than 100 varieties of full-leaf Taiwanese and Japanese oolongs such as High Mountain, Oriental Beauty, Golden Lily and Emerald Jade.

Gary placed some tiny leaves into the small two-spout pot, covered it with boiling water, and then poured some into the elongated fragrant (or nose) cup on the tray.

"Pour tea into the sipping cup, and put the empty one over your nose."

I giggled.

"Sniffing tea?"

"Just try it," encouraged Gary.

I did as bidden. The aromas enfolded me. My back teeth and eyes tingled. I breathed deeply.

"This is something else. I've never tasted tea through my nose and eyes."

It sounded ridiculous, but it was the nearest I got to describing the sensual experience.

"Now sip the tea," he instructed.

"Without milk?" I asked tentatively.

"Just sip. Savor it."

I tasted my first truly black tea. It WAS different than anything I'd drunk before. It tickled and teased my taste buds.

"Good tea will create a sweet drying in the back of the throat," my teacher continued.

Fanny produced fresh snacks - a rice-cookie selection, pineapple cake and raw pumpkin seeds. The sipping and smelling process continued over conversations about the benefits of tea, beautiful Taiwan and its culture. Teatime in Taiwan is an opportunity to relax and enjoy meaningful conversation.

I returned another day to experience Bubble Tea, introduced in the early '80s to appeal to younger generations. Originally black and green tea was shaken with sweetener and ice to produce frothy bubbles. Milks were added later for a creamy flavor. Tapioca pearls, like chewy gummy balls, are placed in the glass and sucked through a wide straw.

I chatted with Juanita Peterson, a Lawrence native who has been married for more than 55 years. She met her husband, Robert, at a dance in Kanwaka (on Highway 40.) Oolong drinking is a generational affair in her family. Her Aunt Bev introduced her to it when she was a little girl, and she in turn taught her daughter Elaine Fellenstein, the Garden Lady, to appreciate it. They love visiting the House of Chá.

"Taiwanese oolongs are the world's finest. The ones here are the best I've ever tasted," Juanita enthused. "I love the Four Seasons and Iron Buddha."

Elaine sipped green rosemary-peppermint tea.

"Good for an uplift," she smiled.

They laughed as I slurped and gurgled. Was I really in Kansas drinking flavored iced tea through a gummy ball strewn straw? I was, and I loved it.

Gary and Fanny have achieved their goal. They shared parts of their love and life journey with me, led me to experience and appreciate another culture, and engaged my senses at a new level. I left rejuvenated after both visits, and have an "enhanced awareness of the world of tea." I encourage you to try it.

Service 5 out of 5.

Ambience 5 out of 5.

Tea 5 out of 5.

- Eileen Roddy, born in Ireland, is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence. She is a graduate of the Citizen Journalism Academy.


Ragingbear 10 years, 10 months ago

This place got a 5 out of 5 on every category? Then how come it is never open, and never has any hours posted? I think that I have seen it open maybe 3 times in the last 2 years.

Katie Van Blaricum 10 years, 10 months ago

I always wondered what this place was; now I know, and I'd like to try it sometime! I hope they're open on a regular basis!

Tandava 10 years, 10 months ago

The House of Cha is one of the few places in the whole United States where one can get a truly good pot of tea.

mindfit 10 years, 10 months ago

Ragingbear, maybe your thinking of the wrong place, or your you have not been into the shopping district after 11am much in two years. The hours are posted on the door and are 11am-9pm most days (think they get a couple of hours off on Sunday).

Kookamooka 10 years, 10 months ago

I like this particular story better than some of her others. It's shorter and sweeter. The "tasting tea through your eyes" makes me want to run right down there and try it! I hope she revisits bubble tea, which my kids liken to snot balls. They also enjoy using the big fat straws as pea shooters. It isn't my favorite taste sensation. I don't think Ms. Roddy gave us her complete impression. Tell us more.

Ragingbear 10 years, 10 months ago

Wait, you may be right. I might be thinking of that old cigar store that now sells crepes. I got to stop making post at 4am... Naaah. What fun is that?

AslanTheLion 10 years, 10 months ago

As much as I love tea (I special order loose leaf teas from a shop in New York, the Merc's teas are horrible) and enjoyed the few times I have visited the House of Cha, I found this article/writer's voice very annoying. It feels like the author 1.) Is talking down to her audience 2.) Has no previous knowledge of tea (research before interview/writing?) No offense, I like that the House of Cha is getting some much deserved press but this came across as something out of a high school newspaper.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 10 months ago

this is indeed a very fine tea shop. and, the people operating it are as good as described! the bubble tea is smooth and wonderful, try the jazmin that way!

trifecta1981 9 years, 6 months ago

July 8, 2004D.A., suspect reach plea in ISU airplane invasionThe Lawrence man charged with illegally entering the Iowa State University men's basketball team's airplane in February has entered a diversion agreement.Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney's office has agreed to suspend prosecution of Gary Dean Patterson, 28 and owner of the House of Cha in Lawrence, and drop charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass if Patterson meets a series of requirements. For example, he'll have to pay court costs and restitution, do 10 hours of community service and write a letter of apology.Reached by telephone Wednesday, Patterson declined comment on the incident.Authorities said Patterson entered the ISU charter Feb. 21 as pilots were fueling the plane at Lawrence Municipal Airport. It forced the Iowa State team to return to Ames on a bus while the plane underwent an extensive search

Thinking_Out_Loud 9 years, 6 months ago

OK, post this 16 months after the article...52 months after the parties agreed to the diversion...what's your agenda?

trifecta1981 9 years, 1 month ago

My agenda is to inform people of this obviously unstable owner to protect them. No telling what someone this unstable may do.

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