Tucked quietly away in New York City’s Chinatown, The Mandarin’s Tea Room opens doors to awareness.
Canal Street in New York City’s Chinatown is a bazaar. One store doorway after another offers t-shirts, perfumes, and cheap souvenirs. Hawkers stand in the middle of the sidewalk. Locals and tourists side-step each other and dodge the merchants calling them into their shops. The street roars with 6 lanes of busy traffic.
Rounding two street corners and entering The Mandarin’s Tea Room creates a welcome contrast. Someone suggested the tea room be called a speakeasy, but the concept doesn’t really fit. Perhaps “tea sanctuary” is more appropriate. It is a place to cultivate awareness.
This particular form of awareness involves tea. Sitting down with Timothy and Dae, I find them tasting a newly-arrived 2013 tie guan yin that has been high-fired. “It’s quite sweet,” says Dae after taking a purposeful sip. I take a sip and see what she means, but many people would initially disagree with her. The roasting and sour notes sought after in some tie guan yins would be the characteristics many people would first recognize. But Dae has discovered more, and she is talking about the rich sweetness that resonates in the tea’s aftertaste. I am reminded of “Three Vinegar Tasters,” a painting in which one of the vinegar tasters appreciates the fuller experience of the vinegar and deems it sweet.
Not every kind of tea is well suited to cultivating awareness. That is why Timothy Hsu, owner of The Mandarin’s Tea Room goes to great effort to curate a collection of teas that collectors and connoisseurs seek. It is not unheard of for Timothy to contact the tea master to request adjustments be made in processing so that the final product is just-so. Timothy may also shelve a tea for months until it has fully mellowed and seasoned. This symbiosis between man and tea comes from awareness of how people affect tea, and how tea, in turn, affects people.
For centuries, tea drinkers have noticed that tea did more than just taste good. The tea seemed to affect their whole bodies. They felt how good tea made them more relaxed. It could make some areas of the body feel warmer. These effects were attributed to the energy of the tea contributing to the correct flow of energy within the tea drinker’s body. This tea energy is called “cha qi.”
Needless to say, an experience at The Mandarin’s Tea Room is not about chugging copious amounts of tea. The teapot and cups are small works of art used to serve tea in the Chinese gongfu manner. The tea room is also not like having a cup at the local coffee shop. “A group of women wanted to have a bachelorette tea event here,” says Timothy. “The Mandarin’s Tea Room is not intended to facilitate that kind of experience.”
At the same time, Timothy leaves the door open for each person to enter into his or her own path of tea awareness. “It isn’t about the pots or the cups or the method,” he says. “The experience is what each person makes of it. It isn’t about the tea as much as what you take from the tea experience.”
– The Mandarin’s Tea Room started in 2006. It has been at its current location since 2010
– Timothy Hsu has been appreciating and collecting exquisite teas for over 12 years
– Go to: http://www.themandarinstearoom.com/ for information on teas in Timothy’s collection
– For information on private tastings, go to: http://www.themandarinstearoom.com/tea_tasting_ep_48-1.html
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