The Random Tea Room & Curiosity Shop in Northern Liberties is my new favorite place in Philadelphia. I know that I stumbled upon it recently, that I have very little experience with tea, and that I’ve only spent a few hours of quality time there, but when you know, you know. This is love, guys. Big, warm, openhearted, humming and smiling for no particular reason love.
When I walked into the tearoom for the first time, my mouth dropped open at the wonderland before me. I found myself peering around the shop tentatively, like it was too good to be true. I was sure that at some point I would see something I wasn’t obsessed with, but I was wrong. The room is packed full of expertly arranged and carefully selected antiques, so every time you glance back at a wall you’re guaranteed to find something new to ogle.
In addition to the small, nook-like seating area in the main tea room, there’s a backyard where concerts, tastings and poetry readings are held, and a massage room where I am sure I will be depositing lots of money very soon. One of the beautiful things about this place is that it isn’t attempting to establish itself as one concrete thing.
Unlike brands that pride themselves on being “eco-friendly” or “organic” and make sure to have a white background and some sort of leaf on their label to prove it, the teashop was an authentic amalgamation of owner Becky Goldschmidt’s taste and commitment to promoting health and wellness.
Speaking of taste, Goldschmidt was generous enough to lead me through an educational tea tasting that blew apart my own conceptions of what hot beverages I do and do not like.
People have tried to get me to switch from coffee to tea for years.
“It’s more caffeinated!” “It’s better for your stomach!” “It will change your entire life!” they insisted. Their enthusiasm fell on deaf ears – I had no intention of breaking off my lifelong allegiance to team coffee bean. Even after opening my mind and mouth to the occasional cup of earl grey, I wasn’t sold. Goldschmidt illustrated that my lack of enthusiasm was not the fault of tea in general, but rather the limitations of the lackluster bagged versions I had been exposed to.
Goldschmidt described “the agony of the leaves,” which occurs when whole leaves unfurl and release their flavor. The tea that comes in bags is cut, meaning that the release happens faster, but results in a weaker cup. Not to mention that the paper used to make teabags becomes carcinogenic when wet.
Making tea is a spiritual ritual and to rush through it is to forsake something crucial, Goldschmidt explained. From where I was sitting, the process looked so elaborate that I can’t precisely explain the steps I witnessed. My favorite aspect, however, was the lucky frog statuette that turned gold when Goldschmidt poured hot liquid over it. Once I recovered from the initial thrill of seeing what looked like alchemy –I admit I was feeling pretty whimsical – she explained that this practice was a customary offering to bless the tea.
I tried three varieties during the session, slurping loudly to cool as well as aerate the tea for a full experience of its flavor.
The first sample was an Oolong tea called Ti Kwan Yin, also known as “The Iron Goddess of Mercy. ” Oolong tea is served using the Gong Fu style, which originated in China, and was perfected in Taiwan. This method requires very small teapots made of dense clay called Yixing (pronounced ee-shing), which allows the residual oils from the tea to accumulate more easily. For this reason, Goldschmidt used a different pot for each type of tea.
The second variety was Puocha, a type of Pu-Erh tea, which aids digestion. Puocha has a strong, earthy, almost leathery flavor. I tried several steepings, each one bolder and more satisfying than the last.
The third was a light green tea, the name of which I forget because I was so overcome with enthusiasm for the final sample, which sealed my fate as a repeat customer. Brewed fresh each morning, the chai tea sits in a huge pot and fills the whole shop with its intoxicating, incense-like aroma. The spices danced on the back of my tongue in a way that made me certain I will never be able to enjoy the powdered stuff again.
As I departed, I was (mistakenly) convinced I was “tea drunk,” which Goldschmidt described as a sort of giddy lightheadedness that can result from drinking too much tea.
One of the magical things about this place is that having a warm cup of tea and more gorgeous visual input than you could ever take in at one time evaporates the constant pressure to do something. It becomes possible to settle in, get saturated with the peacefulness of your surroundings and take a breath.
If the theme of calming down seems pervasive this semester, it’s because I’m a senior writing grant proposals and I take all the mellow moments I can get. I’ll definitely be seeking more of them at the Random Tea House. See you there.
Victoria Marchiony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org