For the Chinese,tea is both a sacred and a wholly ordinary thing. It is brewed when you wake up, at bedtime, for company, as medicine, for talking, for not talking. (Drinking while eating is rare, except with dim sum.) Less structured than in England or Japan, China’s tea ritual can be a casual, sloppy affair. The brew from the first steep is sloshed onto a slotted table as stray drops splash onto the floor. A few finger taps of gratitude for your pourer are customary. At Ten Ren in San Gabriel, golden tea canisters line the walls like urns. The Taiwanese company is the Starbucks of Chinese tea, with franchises all over the world, including five in Greater L.A. Ten Ren specializes in oolong, a partially oxidized tea that’s grown on its plantations in Taiwan in flavor strains ranging from light and fruity to intense and woody. In the rear tasting room you can buy loose leaf in bulk and sample more than five dozen varieties. Don’t know how to choose the right leaves or “wake them up” once you do? The staff is happy to show you. Ten Ren San Gabriel, 154 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, 626-288-1663.
Photograph by Alex Farnum