Welcome back tea lovers! If you stopped by for last week’s teatime, a lovely tour around the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, where you can enjoy a delicious cup of tea from the Tao of Tea in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections Teahouse, you may recall that this week we’ll be visiting another beautiful Asian garden in Portland… the Portland Japanese Garden!
Todd and I actually visited this beautiful garden a day earlier on our trip, and the weather was still a bit drizzly, but the garden was just as lovely; in fact, despite the gray skies the plants were vibrantly green from their fresh bath, the ground smelt amazing, and the whole garden just felt so alive! (But do watch out on the stones, especially if you have plantar fasciitis in a foot! I’m lucky I had physical therapy last winter to reinforce that ankle or I may have had a nasty fall!)
The Portland Japanese Garden is split into areas, but they all loop around and connect to each other, so you can stroll around the garden and explore it at your leisure. Todd and I began in an area known as Wisteria Arbor, which lead to a gorgeous antique five-tiered stone pagoda lantern gifted to the garden by Portland’s sister city in Japan, Sapporo.
Isn’t it lovely? I brought a jigsaw puzzle of this view home for the library breakroom, as Cody and a few of my other coworkers love doing puzzles on their breaks!
We opted to head down into the Strolling Pond Garden next. This area highlights the beauty of natural ponds and streams, and has an authentic moon bridge (where Todd and I took a selfie, but uh… that picture isn’t near as fun as the garden images. ^_^;; ) From the bridge you can get a nice view down into a large pond with a beautiful waterfall. The pond is adorned with stone cranes and tortoises, symbols of longevity. There is also a zig zag bridge across a lower pond filled with irises (which were sadly not quite in bloom yet) that gave an excellent view of the garden’s koi.
Next we headed down into the Natural Gardens, which winds its way down the south hillside. It is filled with trees, small ponds and waterfalls, and shallow streams that run under small bridges, often made from large stones creating footholds. Here all the trees, shrubs, ferns, and mosses are allowed to grow in their natural forms. This may have been my favorite part of the gardens, despite its simplicity, because its form changes so much depending on the season and weather. A lot of the streams and ponds had taken very interesting shapes, leaving mud and rocks where the water had retreated.
This may be my favorite image… but mostly because it was my favorite moment in the garden. This shelter, built in machiai style, is said to provide a place for reflection. A light drizzle kept starting and stopping, and Todd and I tucked ourselves away here, content to sit and rest, listening to the light drops on the roof, enjoying the view. We were there for a long time, content. I remember saying, “If there were pillows in here, I’d be happy to take a nap right now.” It was so peaceful!
Leading back up the hill from the Natural Gardens is a Sand and Stone Garden, featuring stones rising from a bed of white gravel raked to suggest the waves of the sea. This is the garden style typically found in Zen monasteries.
From this height, the gardens overlook the whole city… rather than being surrounded by the city like the Chinese Gardens, you really get a sense of separation here. It really is a bit mystifying to look out at all those skyscrapers after just walking through a zen garden, though! It’s like your mind is playing tricks on you… “Is that city really out there? Did I really just come from there? That can’t be right!”
Finally, just outside this gorgeous Pavilion Gallery house, is a Flat Garden. It is designed using a sea of raked sand, and has two islands of plantings that depict a sake cup and gourd-shaped bottle, signifying pleasure and a wish for the visitor’s happiness.
Just to the south of the Pavilion is a Poetry Stone, inscribed with a haiku.
It reads, Here, miles from Japan, I stand as if warmed by the spring sunshine of home.
Though it wasn’t a very sunny day, I certainly did feel warmed by my trip. It’s a shame they don’t allow food or drink, because a hot cup of green tea would have been wonderful! But good news for anyone interested in visiting this lovely garden in the future! When Todd and I were visiting, they were in the middle of a construction project for a tea house, where you can experience authentic Japanese tea and tea ceremony! This tea house should now be open to the public! (Which just means Todd and I are going to have to plan a return trip!)
Though we couldn’t enjoy tea at the gardens, that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy a nice cup of Japanese green tea during our Portland journey!
For my birthday dinner we went to Bamboo Sushi, where their house tea was freshly steeped genmaicha. Genmaicha is green tea that is combined with roasted brown rice. The rice gives the green tea a slightly more “nutty” flavor than it would have plain. I found the tea very light and complimenting to the meal, though I didn’t find it had enough of a flavor that I could drink it without adding a touch of a sweetener.
It was a very Japanese green tea, to be sure! But today I am going to share a floral green tea blend, because that’s what the May Flowers theme is all about!
I have never tried Jasmine Green Tea, and figured, what better time than now to try it? This is a popular tea blend in China, and serving jasmine tea is seen as a welcoming gesture to guests. So I decided to get a sampler of Jasmine Pearls from Art of Tea. They describe the tea as, “Dating back over 1,000 years, the traditional tea scenting techniques are still used to make this special tea. Aromatic organic jasmine blossoms are used for scenting the most tender organic green tea leaves and buds, then hand rolled into small pearls. This restorative tea is exquisite in flavor and aroma and yields a clear, light green hue with a delicate finish.”
And there you have it, jasmine-scented green tea, rolled into little pearls. And my goodness was the floral scent strong!
I steeped this tea in 175 F water for three minutes…
And found the resulting brew a pale yellow. It was also a bit fun to check the strainer and look at the tea leaves, all uncurled!
The tea had a very strong aroma, and was very naturally sweet; this is not a green tea that would need any sweetener! Todd had told me that he wasn’t much of a fan of jasmine green tea because he thought it had a “perfumey” taste, which always puzzled me, but now that I’ve tried it for myself… yes, I completely understand. It… does have sort of a perfumey taste, that is a bit hard to describe. I didn’t hate it (and will likely finish off my sampler), but I didn’t love it enough that I’d want more than the $5 sampler bag I purchased from Art of Tea (I’m so glad they offer samplers at such a reasonable price!), since their next size, a 4 oz. bag, is $37.00! And if you are going to spend that much for tea, you’d better really love it.
Fans of jasmine tea would probably be really impressed with the quality of this tea… it was very aromatic and flavorful, but still a light and sweet tea. But for me, it just felt like a bit much. I like floral teas, but I felt like the floral taste was drowned out by my nose feeling like it was breathing in a ton of perfume the whole time. Perhaps that is simply how jasmine teas are supposed to be… and if so, then I’d have to agree with Todd on this one and say it isn’t my cup of tea. I have a feeling that a blend lightly scented with jasmine I’d probably have less issues with, but a proper, authentic jasmine green tea like this one… meh. I can drink it, but I don’t feel inclined to add it to my collection.
Does anyone else have experiences with jasmine teas? Love, hate, indifferent? I’m genuinely curious!