Tag Archives: St. Paul

A TeaSource Moment

This week I found myself back in the Twin Cities for a speaking engagement, and of course had to designate some “me time,” also known as “tea time,” before heading home again. Before my last trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Jason Witt had suggested I visit TeaSource, and unfortunately I couldn’t make it work. This time, however, I more than made up for it and may have found my new favorite Twin Cities destination! I contacted Bill Waddington, founder and owner of TeaSource, to see if he might have a few minutes to chat with a tea enthusiast who would be passing through. He graciously agreed, and on Friday afternoon I made my way over to a quaint and cozy corner of St. Paul near the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University.  This location itself could take me down another anecdotal lane, but I’ll leave that for the moment.

As I walked in the front door, I was greeted by the sight of two entire walls lined with tea cannisters. It’s one of my favorite sights. If I could somehow configure a wall of tea in my own home… Anyway, I acted as a fly on the wall for a moment, admiring the conversation between an employee and two women trying to choose a tea pot, because a third wall was lined with tea pots of various sizes, shapes and materials. The employee was great about finding out exactly what kind of tea they most enjoyed, how much they typically consumed in a sitting, did they like hot tea or cold tea. Then she educated them very succinctly and hospitably about her recommendations. It was a mini lesson in tea pots, but not stuffy or boring. Very accessible and interesting. Nice! Then I noticed a woman placing an order for tea at the counter. She asked for two or three different teas, the names of which were foreign to me. I watched how at ease she was with the place, how comfortable she felt about these teas. Obviously a regular here who had tried many different teas (of the 250 that may be in stock at any given time), had found some current favorites and was stocking up for home.

I was greeted warmly by Bill, and he immediately offered to brew a pot of tea. I asked him his current favorite, knowing very well that “favorite” is a fleeting concept where tea is involved. After a bit of discussion, we decided I should be introduced to Ceylon Vithanakanda, FOP, his current go-to black tea. The dry leaf had, as he described it, a ripe fruit aroma, almost like a cantaloupe at its peak of ripeness so that in just a few hours it would be over-ripe. The steeping pot of tea and two clear tea glasses were placed on a wooden tray with a timer and he carried it out to the casual  seating area at the front of the store. Patrons were seated comfortably at small tables for two or on the bright red sofa in the lounge area. A place to visit, a place to study, a place to reflect, the perfect place for tea.

As the tea steeped, I asked Bill how he got into this world of tea. He explained he has always been a tea drinker, and around his 20’s he began to wonder if there were really, really good teas to be experienced, like there are really good wines or chocolates or cigars. He happened to work in a library at the time, and would occasionally flip through periodicals looking for tea related articles or papers. When he would come across a name of a tea expert, whether a grower or exporter or other, he would write a letter and ask if he could buy some tea from them. These letters would make their way to China, India, Japan, and other tea growing regions around the world. As has been my experience in the tea microcosm, the response to him was very positive. Relationships were formed, Bill was introduced not only to the intricate and nuanced world of tea but to a circle of mentors who would continue to expand his network to this day.

At one point, we realized that we had been in the same tea cupping class in Boston in 2003, he as an assistant to the instructor, Michael Spillane, and I as a student. The tea world, as with all industries, is a small one!

Ceylon Vithanakanda, FOPBut I am forgetting to spotlight the star of this Moment. The Ceylon. Bill had wanted me to try this one because, while not a rare or expensive Ceylon, it is full bodied, with a lot of mouth feel, the fruit tones in the aroma transferring to the liquid itself. He admitted that even with access to much more rare or expensive Ceylons, he found himself coming back to this one again and again. The steeped liquid was a very orange, almost red, amber, and I was very happy to indulge in that first sip… Full, rich, hitting every point on my palate. This was just the kind of cup to start your day with purpose and momentum. I could envision consuming gallons of it in just a day. Yes. I like very much.

While there are many anecdotes I could share from this moment, what I enjoyed the most was being able to sit and chat casually with someone whose passion for tea led him to a life where he can continue to learn, continue to explore, provide education to others and introduce them to this amazing world where he has been led.  And in my search for green teas, he provided his own recommendation that I’m really looking forward to trying!

Run, don’t walk to TeaSource:

St. Paul Store
752 Cleveland Ave. So.
St. Paul, MN 55116
(651) 690-9822
Store Hours:
M-Thurs 10:00–9:00
Fri-Sat 10:00–10:00
Sun: 10:00-5:00

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Filed under Education, Tea, Tea Room, Travel

A Russian Moment in St. Paul

st paulWhile in St. Paul, MN this week to speak at their local multifamily housing Fall Conference, I took one selfish hour to run up the hill from the RiverCentre to eat at a restaurant called Moscow on the Hill. I had originally planned on visiting Teasource, as suggested by @JasonWitt and @Teasource on Twitter, but unfortunately time didn’t allow.

As you know from previous posts, I had the pleasure of visiting Siberia, Russia nearly 15 years ago and I fell in love with their food and arts. And so, whenever I have the chance to eat at a thoroughly Russian-feeling restaurant, I take it! And Moscow on the Hill did not disappoint.

My cab dropped me off in the historic district of St. Paul, just up the street from the glorious Cathedral of St. Paul. Red brick buildings sat cozily along the slightly narrow streets that had just a hint of the previous day’s snow storm. I stood cozily with them for a moment, thankful for my coat and gloves (which I had to dig out of the depths of my closet, having come from 70+ degree California weather!).

Don't let it fool you. This tea will put hair on your chest.

Don't let it fool you. This tea will put hair on your chest.

Inside, the ambiance did not disappoint. Despite being the only patron at opening, I found myself surrounded by the rich reds and golds I associate with the country. On the wall were traditional peasant shirts in the bright hues. Framed photos of Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, and other familiar Moscow landmarks accompanied them.  And the music – one can not be in a Russian establishment with out the requisite Russian folk music (which I love). While the restaurant had no tea menu, just an option of ‘hot tea,’ I ordered it knowing that Russian hot tea is strong black tea regardless of brand. Strong and hot it was – and served with a slice of lemon.

And while many go straight for the known Russian entrees like Blini or Stroganoff, my interest typically lies with two things: Borscht and Pelmeni. While in Siberia, I was taught how to make traditional borscht, a bright red beet soup. Apparently there are 2 main ways borscht is made. In the west (Moscow), you will more likely find cabbage included in this all vegetable soup. In the east (Siberia), however, you will not find cabbage, but you will find beef.   I was also given a recipe for pelmeni, which is very similar to a larger tortellini made with thinner pasta and filled with simply seasoned beef and pork. Typically, it is served in a light broth. Siberian families often make these pelmeni by the thousands to freeze and use throughout the long winter.  Both of these comfort foods are served with a generous dallop of sour cream.

Mmm... Borscht

Mmm... Borscht

I ordered these two dishes and spent the next half hour in bliss as I ate, reminisced, and enjoyed the leisurely street scene outside my window on the historic streets of St. Paul as the notes of “Midnight in Moscow” floated around me.

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Filed under Tea, Travel