5 years ago
Sunday, June 27, 2010
We recently returned from more than two weeks in northern Europe, cruising through the ports of the Baltic Sea: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia) and Warnemunde (Germany). The journey started with a few days in Amsterdam, where the Dutch consolidated such trading power in the 1600s and foisted China's favorite herb on us. While there was some fine tea to be had in Amsterdam, it paled in comparison to the inventive shops I visited in Copenhagen, Denmark.
There is, of course, A.C. Perch's, the oldest operating tea shop on the continent. (If you include England, the oldest tea seller is London's Fortnum & Mason.) Still crammed into its original tiny space in central Copenhagen, the warm little nook has a thriving business with locals and tourists alike. With room for about a half dozen customers at a time, the tea sellers are whisking canisters under noses and measuring tea with deft, speedy movements.
I wound up chatting with a fellow at Perch's about their new Bolivian tea, grown in former coca fields (cocaine and tea both like their altitude, er, high), which I sampled and then promptly bought a few hundred grams of. It's a mix of two different green teas, one of which is steamed, and it is, as the ladies used to sing, fine and mellow.
On the west side of the city center is a somewhat new place called The a la Menthe — a cozy Moroccan-themed spot with sunny windows, colorful tables and a variety of mint tea preparations. I hit this place first but wish I'd saved it till later in the day. It's a bright take on tea, and the food holds equal footing — north African fruits, chicken salads and curries, plus samosa and falafel. To complement the chow is a small but focused menu of teas, from the house mint specialty (a handful of mint leaves with green tea, and surprisingly not too sweet) and a curious orange tea to basic green and Earl Grey. The staff I encountered was pretty rude, but I was asking a lot of questions in the middle of what seemed like a lunch rush. Can't help it.
The most exciting discovery, however, was Sing Tehus, a Japanese tea house not far off the main pedestrian mall running through Copenhagen's center. Run by a woman who clearly knows her chado, Sing Tehus specializes in Japanese green and white teas, plus a few extras (I bought a vivacious Vietnamese oolong). A kind woman named Marie filled me in while pouring me a taste of new shincha — so fresh and plucky, it was as if the calendar rewound a couple of months to the dawn of spring. The corner shop is a half story above the street (unlike the other ground- and below-level shops) with big windows wrapping around, letting the rare patches of sun illuminate the racks of fine teaware — from basic porcelain and iron pots to a serious, massive old kettle and brazier. It's the kind of place I wish I lived nearby, and with any real luck someday I will.
Alas, I never had a Danish in Denmark to go with my tea. I wouldn't have anyway, I guess, since the Danish refer to danishes as Viennese.