The Tea Room

This article is part of a series on Uncommon Connoisseurships. See also:

  1. Honey: The Honey Diaries
  2. Ramen: Package Deal
  3. Herbal Tea: The Tea Room
A few of Steven Smith Teamaker's herbal teas.

A few of the herbal teas at Steven Smith Teamaker.

It was twilight in Mostar, Bosnia. The sky slowly darkened, and the townspeople, who had assembled atop the hill overlooking the city to break their fast for Ramadan, had already dispersed. Fruit vendors lingered in the dark streets.

Josh, John and I entered the small tea house. The unassuming storefront hid on one side of a sloping, curving cobble-stoned street; inside, the room was small and conversation was lively. On the walls, jars ascended to the ceiling: some smelled fragrantly of vanilla, strawberry, and ginger; others contained arcane herbs. The proprietor, a tall, holy-looking man, with white hair, a white beard, and traditional Muslim white robes, recognized us and greeted us happily. Soon, tea accessories crowded our low table, music played around us, and our small chess board came out between glasses and jars.

I ordered herbal tea, of course.

I first took to herbal teas because they lack caffeine, which can disrupt sleep, study, and sanity. My interest has progressively grown. Unlike other teas – for which the plants used are chosen surely at least partly for their caffeine content – herbal teas are made solely for taste. These tastes are varied and delicate.

I set out to chart the complex world of herbal teas, and also to find the perfect tea experience. I eventually found myself at Steven Smith Teamaker, in Portland, Oregon. Continue reading

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Package Deal

This article is part of a series on Uncommon Connoisseurships. See also:

  1. Honey: The Honey Diaries
  2. Ramen: Package Deal
  3. Herbal Tea: The Tea Room
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Nancy enjoys some (packaged) ramen.

“Ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle dish,” explains Adam Richman, host of the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food, as he enters Los Angeles’ most legendary ramen house. “But here at Orochon Ramen, they serve an extremely uncommon, and extremely spicy, interpretation.” Richman goes on to conquer, in less than thirty minutes, the massive, fiery bowl known only as the Special Number 2, winning the restaurant’s challenge and landing his name on its so-called Wall of Bravery. “If you think ramen is just a 99-cent cup of dehydrated noodles, then you’ve obviously never been to Orochon Ramen,” Richman proclaims.

And though I have been to Orochon — I’ve tried the real thing — I’ll nonetheless here explore ramen’s distant, dehydrated cousins. I too, like Richman, consign Top Ramen — the infamous high-school snack of chicken, beef, and ignominy — to the distant past. Venturing further, though, I’ve discovered the world of genuine imported packaged ramen — a world startlingly diverse in flavor and style. Packaged ramen too deserves a reappraisal. Continue reading

The Honey Diaries

This article is part of a series on Uncommon Connoisseurships. See also:

  1. Honey: The Honey Diaries
  2. Ramen: Package Deal
  3. Herbal Tea: The Tea Room
L to R: Acacia, Arancia, Millefiori, Eucalipto, Millefiori di Bosco

L to R: Acacia, Arancia, Millefiori, Eucalipto, Millefiori di Bosco

We were ushered into a wood-paneled second-floor room, leaving the cobbled alley behind us. A warm breeze drifted in through a row of open windows, and the dark blue and brown of Florence’s night could be seen below. Dish after dish of cured meats, cheese, and carbonara and bolognese began to crowd our long, dimly lit wooden table. Where were we? “Don’t worry, I have connections,” grinned Rosetta, the lively, middle-aged leader of our group of twinkling-eyed eighteen-year-olds, and around me, the wine flowed and the voices swelled.

Rosetta welcomed one final platter onto the table. Next to spoons, there resided three thick liquids, and in that dark room, they seemed to glow different colors, yellow and green and blue. “Honey,” Rosetta observed. “Try to taste their differences.” Continue reading