Jeannie Liu began learning how to run a small business at a young age by helping her parents run a small Chinese restaurant in Lynnwood. In her early twenties, she was already developing her first business plan for Oasis tea area, a bubble tea shop she started with her parents in the Chinatown-International District 25 years ago and now has three locations in the Seattle area. Liu gained confidence by opening Oasis and wanted to branch out on her own.
“I decided to go into a business that I thought was a more grown-up version of the bubble tea business,” she says. So Liu studied culture, history, science, many kinds of tea, and finally opened Miro tea at Ballard in 2007.
Tea is a product that Liu is proud of: it is not harmful to customers, and she is careful to source teas as ethically as possible, often buying directly from farmers who also process their tea, cutting out middlemen so producers keep more of the profit. Liu regularly travels to Taiwan and China to develop relationships with growers and traders.
Liu’s tea list – which contains around 150 teas – changes every year, based on the best products she can find in each season. (About 40 percent of teas are different each year). Everything is to be drunk in the tea room with an assortment of pastries and wagashi (Japanese desserts) made by Phinney Ridge Tokara. Liu also sells tea by the ounce for those who want to make it at home.
Liu recently caught up with Eater Seattle to share 10 of his favorite teas, and five favorites are listed below. These teas (like all teas except herbal teas) are made from the same plant species, camellia sinensis. The differences between them stem from the varietal of the species grown and the nuances of the terroir, farming practices and processing techniques which all inform the flavor of the final drink. In general, white and green teas are the least processed and least oxidized, oolong teas are partially oxidized, and black teas are fully oxidized.
Note: When purchasing tea from Miro or any other tea shop, be sure to inquire about the proper steeping temperature and duration. Pro Tip: Use spring water instead of filtered tap water for best results.
Shangri-La white tea
This white tea from Nepal has peppery notes, but also a lively floral character, similar to flavors found in teas from the neighboring Darjeeling region of India “You get the terroir of the Himalayas – the cloud cover, but also a mineral very rich soil,” says Liu. “White teas are the last processed of all teas,” she says. “It’s really good because you’re drinking the tea in its pure form.
Oolong Mountain Joy
Liu says this delicate, lightly oxidized oolong from Taiwan is a true high mountain tea, meaning it was grown at over 8,000 feet above sea level. High mountain oolongs, she says, are naturally fair trade, even when they don’t have this certification, because they are expensive products that bring big rewards to farmers. The quality is also consistently high, thanks in part to a tea competition in the region that financially incentivizes producers to produce the tastiest tea. Joy Mountain oolong tastes buttery or creamy, but also light and floral, with a sweetness of nectar.
Dragon’s Well Green Tea
A real Dragon Well tea, Liu says, has a denomination of origin and must come from the Westlake region of China, just like champagne must come from Champagne, France. It has hints of chestnut and a bit of toastiness from the pan-cooking process, with a balanced bitterness and a sweet, honeyed scent. Japanese green teas (like sencha) are steamed, not pan-fried, Liu explains, which is why they tend to have less roast and more vegetal notes.
This rich oolong tea grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province is deeply oxidized, on the other side of the oolong spectrum from the delicate Joy Mountain. The flavors are dark, smoky and toasty (from a roasting process) but also with a lively fruit flavor close to that of an apricot or tart plum.
This assertive black tea from Shandong, the same region of China that Liu’s family hails from, has a strong cocoa scent with flavors of brown sugar and malt. “People from this region are known to be very direct and assertive, so this tea reflects the people there,” Liu says.
Miro Tea is located at 5405 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.