Sip by sip

Seattle has its obsessions, and a lot of them can be poured into a glass. Today I’m going to share our drinkable culture with you.

Most people know about Seattle’s coffee fixation, and it is as intense as it is rumored to be. Many blocks have multiple coffee shops, and some people will only go to specific ones. Most coffee snobs avoid Starbucks in favor of independent places where they still use manual espresso machines, because the baristas can alter the shots on machines like that. We also like to support our independents. I love this facet of Seattle, because it means I can get great coffee on almost any corner. Unfortunately, some places do not have drip coffee, and that’s my usual beverage of choice. Americanos just don’t do it for me.

Seattleites also love tea, especially that spiced-up concoction known as chai. It’s based on black tea, and usually features cinnamon, sweetness and a bit of milk. Chai can be a heavenly thing. Here there are passionate feelings, too. Some think that chai should be sweet, like a spice cake. Others, myself included, like our chai spicy. I worship at Travelers, where they make their chai from scratch using black pepper and a modicum of sweetener. I am addicted.

Alcoholic drinks are popular here, too, as they are throughout the world. Seattle has numerous bars where they make fancy cocktails. I had a lovely sage cucumber vodka martini a few years back, and a mai tai at a tiki bar for my birthday.

Washington is a wine-growing state, so wine is everywhere. The grocery stores have enormous selections, and something tasty is always on sale. There are special wine bars where you can go to educate your palate or torment your liver. It’s a popular entertainment.

Seattle is also big on beer. There are many micro-breweries in the Northwest, and some of them even have restaurants where you can go and get a beer sampler. I love to do this. I don’t drink much, and it’s great to be able to sample a number of beers all at once while consuming only a few pints. These breweries have frequent seasonal specials, and I had a marvelous pepper beer a few weeks back.

I think Seattle culture is so focused around liquid refreshments because it’s relaxed here. People like to take the time to sit and talk with each other. I love that about Seattle. I toast the city with my glass of chai. Mmm, spicy.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

152. When did you last take time to sit and talk with a friend? Pick the beverages of your choice and do it again today.

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By any other name

Flowers work in mysterious ways. I have more of an aesthetic mindset than a scientific one, so many of their basic ways are hidden from me. Beyond that, I find unusual connections to flowers. Last spring I was admiring a bright yellow flower that seemed to be everywhere in Seattle. Being new to the area, I did not know what it was, but it cheered me up every time I saw it. No one seemed able to identify it, until I stopped in a hardware store for some paint. There was the unknown bud, sitting in a pot with a helpful little plastic name tag speared into the dirt. The perky little flower was St. John’s Wort. I’d heard of it, because it’s a natural remedy for depression. Sure worked for me—I just had to look at it to start smiling. 

I had another such occurrence this week.  I mentioned to you all a flowering tree in my neighborhood with huge pink blossoms the size of carnations. It is so pretty as to look unreal, and the profusion of flowers on the tree would seem so great as to topple the sturdiest trunk. I’ve been admiring it for a few weeks now, but nobody seemed to know what it was, until I checked with a gardening friend. I double-checked his guess with a Google image Search. Sure enough, the tree is a camellia, and once again it’s a plant that I already knew about. Camellia sinensis is the tree whose leaves produce my favorite beverage—tea. It comforts at the sip and again by the very sight of it.

I would never have discovered these fun connections if I hadn’t sought out the names of these flowers. As a writer, I think it’s important to be able to properly identify the universe around you. It’s only polite to use something’s name when you mention it, and a name will trigger a memory in someone who has met that thing before. I was thrilled when I went to Mexico and saw my first bougainvillea, because Raymond Chandler mentions it all the time, and now I picture this flower in all its glory in the gritty streets besides Phillip Marlowe. It makes a nice contrast. I’m asking for introductions in all the best flower beds in town. I think Lily’s coming over for Easter. I can’t wait.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

56. Is there some tree or flower in your neighborhood that you’ve always admired? Find out its name. 

Playing mother with Mr. Twinings

Today, like many days, I am fortifying myself with a traditional Irish beverage. I celebrate my Celtic heritage while I slake my thirst. Ahh—I long for the Emerald Isle I have not yet seen in person. Another sip and I am crying with joy. What is this magic liquid? Not Guinness, although that’s another favorite I learned to sip during aborted Gaelic lessons. This miracle fluid is tea. How bracing! How soothing! How downright splendiferous! I have been in love with Earl Grey ever since my mother introduced us—a most charming fellow when steeped and sipped.

I love everything about tea—the rituals, the preparation and the paraphernalia involved. I’ve got a cast iron Japanese teapot with dragonflies on the side, and many different strainers and cups. Sometimes I use a clear pot and sit witness to the agony of the leaves. This is the moment when boiling water inspires tea to dance around the pot, unfurling into its full flavor. Ah, how wonderful to watch my cuppa being born!

It’s not all about the stuff, either. Tea is delicious, and each kind brings a little story with it. I adore Russian Caravan, supposedly named for the smoky flavor infused into the tea whilst it was on a long trek with silk-laden camels. Gunpowder green has a subtle maple flavor. It doesn’t explode, but the tea leaves are wrapped into little pellets that look like buckshot. These pellets burst open during the steeping process. Ah, the glory of the agony! And Moroccan Mint blends that taste with a refreshing hint of peppermint. Can’t you just taste the bazaar?

I’m finding that Seattle is a most fruitful place to follow the way of tea. The Crumpet Shop in the Pike Place market has overflowing pots and hearty sandwiches. Floating Leaves in Ballard focuses on Asian contemplation and preparation. The fascinating Japanese supermarket Uwajimaya offers undreamed of varieties. Those are just a few of the local resources and the grand prize of Victoria awaits me—I can’t wait to take the clipper up to Canada to experience their high tea, which is the utmost in British elegance. Hold on finger sandwiches—I’m coming!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

33. Treat yourself to a type of tea you haven’t had before. Going out for tea is lovely, but in the alternative buy yourself a sampler and have at it with the boiling water. This is an exercise that is especially lovely when shared. Tea tastes best with company. Enjoy!