The structure itself, and even its name, The Teahouse at the Tower of Cosmic Reflections, evokes calm and seems to suggest that I gather together any frayed threads of city stress as I climb the stairs to the second-floor tea room. I am visiting the Lan Su Chinese Garden with friends visiting from Canada, and I know this walled classical garden in downtown Portland is just the ticket for an afternoon of quiet chats and strolling among the garden’s various “rooms.”
I regard the Lan Su Chinese Garden as a treasure among Portland’s attractions, and pausing for a break at The Teahouse is one of many ways to savor the experience. We are seated at a table by a window overlooking the gardens. The Teahouse is operated by The Tao of Tea, a Portland company that has managed to pair the beauty and symbolism of the surrounding garden with authentic Chinese tea culture.
The seasonal offerings of Chinese teas include white, green, oolong, puer, black and herbal teas. What to order? The menu is a helpful guide, but our server is a veritable encyclopedia of Chinese teas, capable of suggesting selections for health, for mood or for the style in which it is served. We learn that each tea is presented in a vessel specifically chosen to match its type and character. Savory and sweet snacks are offered to complement the tea.
Tea service at The Teahouse is an art. It is not rushed and is even executed with a measure of reverence. It’s clear that the servers are well-schooled. After some discussion with the server and among ourselves, we decide to embrace our roles as tea tourists. We decide on three varieties: an organic White Peony tea that’s delicate and fragrant; a dark, earthy Topaz Puer tea from Yunnan Province; and an elixir, Eight Treasures tea, a blend of flowers, fruit, green tea, medicinal herbs and rock sugar.
The server shares that The Tao of Tea owner Verindeer Chawla hand selects the best tasting teas while personally visiting the growing regions. Well-versed in Chinese tea culture, which varies by growing region, Chawla works with tea growers who use old-school methods and whose teas best represent the styles and flavors of their regions.
We take a stab at tea and food pairing and order coconut tarts to go with the white tea, red bean mooncake to temper the muskiness of the puer tea and candied mango slices to accompany Eight Treasures. We also settle on an order of steamed vegetable buns for good measure.
Our mini tea tour of China turns out to be a high-level glimpse at ancient traditions that are still revered. My visit to the Teahouse reveals how much I don’t know about Chinese tea culture and how it could be a lifelong study, as it no doubt has been for Chawla.
Glancing around at other guests, I see some who have come solo—a perfect meditative
experience, I imagine—some in small groups like ours, each chatting in hushed tones as they sip and munch. A couple at the next table toasts with tiny Chinese tea cups. No one is on their mobile device. No one seems to be in a hurry. Conversations and even laughter are hushed. By the time we finish and get up from our table, I take stock. Yes, I am refreshed, even energized, thinking about the present moment and the friends I’d just spent a few hours enjoying in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections.
Reserve your Teahouse experience at lansugarden.org/about-the-garden/teahouse.
A Stroll Through the Garden
Visiting Chinese artisans from Suzhou Province in China built Lan Su Chinese Garden. The garden draws upon a 2,000-year-old Chinese aesthetic tradition that melds art, architecture, design and nature. The garden offers something different with every season. It reveals as many of its secrets as the curious observer wishes to uncover with every visit. It is one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside China.
Visitors enter through the Courtyard of Tranquility, stepping back to the 16th century. A stroll through the garden’s spaces take the visitor to The Scholar’s Courtyard, The Scholar’s Study, the Painted Boat in Misty Rain, the Hall of Brocade Clouds and more. Find out more at lansugarden.org.