A Tea Trip for the Ages

Gabor of Zhao Zhou, Budapest

“Tea is a religion of the art of life.” ~Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

By Leo Babauta

Today I am finishing an unplanned around-the-world trip with my friend Tynan that featured some of the best tea experiences I’ve ever had. The generosity of the tea shop owners and tea enthusiasts I met have just blown me away, and I’m left with a beautiful feeling of lingering tea taste in my mouth, a calmness in my body, and a warmness in my heart.

The trip ended with a three-hour tea tasting at Zhao Zhou in Budapest, perhaps the best Chinese tea shop in Europe (if you’re a fan of Chinese tea, it’s the best tea shop in Europe period). In this shop, with gorgeous tea ware made in Hungary and China, the owner, Gabor, served me and Tynan some amazing oolongs and pu-erh teas and talked to us about Tibetan Buddhism, ancient tea trees, Zen masters, and the “body feel” that a tea leaves you with. I adore Gabor and found him to be one of the most generous people I’ve met.

Gabor is friends with Michael, the owner of a tea shop in Taipei called Stop By Tea House where we’d been just two days before. We walked the streets of Taipei looking for good tea, and found it in abundance:

Stephane and Tynan in a Taiwanese garden

Before we hit Taiwan, Tynan and I spent a couple days in Tokyo, going twice each to our favorite two tea houses in the city: Higashi-ya and Ippodo. They have exquisite examples of Japanese gyokoro and matcha tea, with delicious Japanese tea sweets to match. Higashi-ya is gorgeously designed, with servers who whisk the matcha in a blur, and serve it so elegantly you feel your heart might burst.

Now that I’m flying home to California, I’m hoping to stop by the tea house that started my tea journey, and my friendship with Tynan: Samovar Tea. The owner, Jesse, has a generosity of spirit to match the others I’ve met on this trip, and he’s now one of my best friends as well. With a simple cup of sencha he served me eight years ago, he gave me the gift of appreciation of something that connects me to so many people, to trees and farms and farmers, to cups and food and water, to everything around me, and to myself.

Wistaria Tea House, Taipei

We honestly didn’t plan for this to be such an epic tea trip, nor could we have guessed what kind of generosity of spirit we would encounter in Japan, Taiwan and Budapest. But the trip turned out to be like the brewing of a good pot of tea: every steeping is different, yielding unexpected flavors, giving an unfolding experience that you can’t predict and that you can’t hold onto, but that you can savor with contentment and gratitude nonetheless.

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.” ~Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

Stop By Tea House, Taipei