Red lanterns beckoned us down the hill, away from Old Street and into neighborhood lanes. A few twists and turns and stops at large decks built off the hill for better viewing of the ocean, now misty and spotted with boat's bright lights and we arrived at the odd, haphazard wooden building. Warm red against the cool purple sky, we didn't know what to expect but it seemed like good a spot as any to reheat our aching hands before catching a bus back to Taipei.
We enter into a small reception area, where an ottoman shaped mutt in a quilted jacket is quietly limping around. I wonder if we've accidentally ended up in some sort of guesthouse.
"It's ok, my dog he is old," a woman appears from an adjoining room behind the counter, "upstairs" she points.
The wooden staircase is narrow and turning, with even less space allowed for movement by a cluster of potted plants along the wall but opens into a wide hallway. To the left is a low opening into a room made of weathered, mismatched wood, roof slanting so at the far end the tables look made for a giant. Continuing down the upward slanted hallway, there's a large window looking into the room and table covered in Taiwanese LPs. There's a room in the back with a large group dining and laughing loudly. We decide to go up one more set of stairs.
These stairs open into one large room, home to more mismatched furniture covered in plants and vintage fans. Here two people are working in a small kitchen area and they gesture for us to find somewhere to sit. A sort of balcony runs around the high ceilinged room. We go up the stairs and find they lead to an outside balcony. Even though we had traveled downhill to the tea house, our view was now over the town and the ocean.
We order in a confusion. I choose one tea but then the server points out three teas (including my choice) and I'm not sure if he's suggesting I ordered wrong or explaining my options. I end up changing to the one he specifically mentioned was Taiwanese. Dan and I are both tired and sore from walking. The night has a damp chill that seeps into my bones. But even at that I find myself settling into the biting wind and thinking "home".
Out comes a wooden box with slots in the top, topped with a small red tea pot, a white and blue pitcher and two delicate cups. After this another wooden box with a burner. Followed by a large teapot of boiling water. We're not sure what we've gotten ourselves into.
"I will show you"
The young woman hands us a placard, partially in English explaining the process but also narrates what she's doing.
First she carefully measures tea into the clay pot. Next she picks up the large tea pot, wrapping its handle in cloth.
"The first time we are just warming the pot"
She pours the water into the pot, places the lid back on and then pours water all over the outside as well. She quickly drains the water out of the tea pot through the slots.
"Now we pour again"
She fills the pot until it is overflowing and once again replaces the lid.
"Now we wait until the water starts to go back" she gestures towards the nozzle and we all stare at the small opening intently. Eventually the water recedes a little. With quick practiced movements, she lifts the pot and hangs it almost vertically draining it into the small sieve on top of the blue and white pitcher.
"You can use these tea leaves 4 or 5 times, ok. And the rest in the container is for you."
"Ok, thank you"
She leaves and we quietly sip our tiny cups of tea.
Dan makes the next two pots of tea.
The young man comes out to check on us. If we're cold we can move inside he says as he lifts the pot to see how much water we have left.
I am cold but I don't want to go inside.
"Does the tea taste a little like fish to you?"
"I think some green teas, like this one, can have a bit of a seaweed-y taste"
"So, it's ok?"
My husband is not a tea drinker.
"Yeah, I think it's fine"
"Ok, it's your turn to make a pot"
I look at the giant pot warily. I take the lid off the small pot and carefully go through the steps. Pour to overflowing. Replace the lid. Wait for the water to retreat. Strain. Pour into cups.
We discuss our dinner options. Between buns in the morning and market food we're lunch, we feel street fooded-out for the day, plus between the wind and the walking, we're craving something more substantial.
Two more rounds of tea.
We settle on the Ippudo we had spotted two blocks from our hotel, not adventurous but we had had plenty of adventure that day.
We go inside to settle up the bill and then make our way back to the bus stop.