Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tea in Madison, Wisconsin

I've decided to move to Madison, Wisconsin. I've been struggling with finding a place to live for some time. Since, right now in my life, a lot of the things I do I can do from anywhere, I've wanted to really search for a place that fits with my values and what I want out of life. I've suspected for quite some time that the midwest holds the key. I recently took a road trip to the midwest and visited friends in a number of cities.

I had the striking conclusion that I really like most of the cities in the midwest. I liked a lot Chicago, certainly much more than I like any other large cities in the U.S., and I liked Minneapolis and St. Paul a lot too. But I really fell in love with Madison. There are many things I like about Madison, including a focus on sustainability among the city and state government, university, and residents of the city, and a lower cost of living than most of the east coast. But the thing that really draws me to Madison is that it is one of the few cities I have found that has a truly vibrant culture of young, highly-educated people, but that is not caught in the trap of the fast-paced, high-achievement, "work hard play hard" culture of the east coast. To some degree, I found that this same statement applies to the other cities I visited, such as Minneapolis / St. Paul, and even to Chicago (when comparing it to New York or D.C.).

Here on the east coast, there's a palpable "brain drain" into the big cities like D.C., New York, Boston, and to some degree Philadelphia. These places all feel too much for me...too status-driven in particular. I am a community-driven person: I value friends and family over career advancement, status, or money. On the east coast, I feel constantly at odds with the dominant culture, constantly in a minority, because of my values. While I have made many friends here, the people I connect with most all seem, like me, to be somewhat marginalized. In Madison, and in the midwest in general, by contrast, I found that the people I connect with the most genuinely love where they are living, and are really integrated into the culture and communities in which they live in a way that I simply do not find here on the east coast. So this made me decide to move...the more I talked to people the more I knew I needed to move.

Tea in Madison:

While in Madison, I went to Dobra Tea, a small tea shop on State Street (Dobra tea also has a location in Burlington, VT, for reference):

First of all, I want to say that State Street is wonderful. It's about a half mile of densely-packed storefronts, almost all small, independent businesses. The businesses extend onto side streets too. Perhaps most importantly, the street is blocked off to car traffic, although buses are allowed to come down the street. It's like a powered-up version of a classic Main St. In my opinion, every city and town would be greatly enriched by a setup like this.

The Tea:

With two friends, we ordered a pot of Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe). In retrospect, I kind of wish we had opted for the Gong Fu brewing, but we did not. The result was still very good. The staff brewed and poured the first infusion, and gave us a pot of hot water over a burner with instructions on how to make subsequent infusions. We made three infusions.

Each infusion was remarkably unique. The first was very aromatic, with some roast and floral tones, an overall deep quality, and completely smooth: absolutely no bitterness or astringency, and in general, very little flavor--just a very bold, complex aroma. The second infusion was totally different: it was pleasantly bitter and astringent. It had a bite to it and was much more full-bodied. The third infusion, oddly, was completely unlike the first two: it was very sweet, and had almost no bitterness or astringency, and yet was still very full-bodied and rich; the aroma was subtle and more like honey or caramel, but still with a hint of the roast from earlier infusions.

This tea fascinated me due to the fact that the second infusion was more bitter than the first or third, and the sweetness only emerged in the third infusion. I wish we had had time to explore a fourth or more, because there was much flavor left in the tea, but we were on a schedule and had to get on our way at this point. This was my first experience with Da Hong Pao, but I am convinced that this was a quality tea.

Other Tea in Madison:

It is also interesting to note that Cha Cha Tea is located here; although the business is mail-order only, it does supply tea to various restaurants. I saw their teas for sale in Brasserie V, a restaurant in Madison, although I did not try anything.

So, I'm going to be somewhere where there is an active tea culture--substantially more than the small town I currently live in. That's exciting. And Chicago isn't too far away, and there's a lot of tea happening there too!


  1. If you are ever around Indianapolis come late august, give me a shout. I am going to school about half hour away from there!

  2. Hi Alex! Thanks for another thoughtful and personal post. I wish you great luck with your move! Madison sounds like a really cool town. I actually have no experience what-so-ever with both the mid-west and the east coast... But your description of the east coast jives with others that I have heard. I truly love my life here in the laid-back northwest, but would love to visit Madison, Minneapolis and/or Chicago someday. I currently have no interest in visiting New York City as I prefer to get my rare "big city fix" from Taipei.

  3. I definitely want to visit and explore Indianapolis at some point. It is an easier drive from Madison than from where I currently am, so once I get settled in there I might be able to visit. I have another friend there, but I've never visited her or even gone through or near the city. When I've gone east-west, I've generally driven I-80 or I-64, which go, respectively, much farther north and much farther south of Indianapolis.

    I have always wanted to see the northwest too. I have friends from the pacific northwest as well as the inland parts of the northwest (Eastern Washington, and one of my friends from UD is now in Idaho). I've particularly wanted to see Portland. Everyone says I'd like both Portland and Seattle but I get the vibe that I'd really like Portland.

  4. My Brother got his undergraduate Degree from University of Wisconsin Madison, though he know goes to school elsewhere, and I have no reason to head up that way, but it really is only about 2 hours away from my Parents house in the Chicago Suburbs.

  5. Good luck in your new home. I am envious of the tea shop. None of the ones in my town offer a choice of brewing techniques