Jeannie Liu started learning about how to run a small business at a young age by helping her parents run a small Chinese restaurant in Lynnwood. By the time she was in her early 20s, she was already developing her first business plan for Oasis Tea Zone, a bubble tea shop she opened with her parents in the Chinatown-International District 25 years ago which now has three locations in the Seattle area. Liu gained confidence 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 the culture, the history, the science, the many many types of tea and eventually opened Miro Tea in Ballard in 2007.
Tea is a product Liu feels proud about: It isn’t harmful to customers, and she takes care to source her teas as ethically as possible, often buying directly from farmers who also process their tea, cutting out the middleman so that producers keep larger portions of the profit. Liu regularly takes trips to Taiwan and China to develop relationships with producers and merchants.
Liu’s tea list — which contains around 150 teas — changes every year, based on the best products she can find each season. (About 40 percent of the teas are different each year). All of these are available to drink at the tea shop with an assortment of pastries and wagashi (Japanese desserts) made by Phinney Ridge’s Tokara. Liu also sells tea by the ounce for those who want to make it at home.
Liu recently sat down with Eater Seattle to share 10 of her favorite teas, and five favorites are listed below. These teas (like all teas besides herbal tea) are made from the same species of plant, camellia sinensis. The differences between them come from the varietal of the species grown and the nuances of terroir, farming practices, and processing techniques that all inform the flavor of the final drink. In general, white and green teas are the least processed and oxidized, oolong teas are partially oxidized, and black teas are fully oxidized.
Note: When buying a tea at Miro, or any other tea shop, make sure to ask about the proper temperature and amount of time to steep the tea. Pro tip: use spring water instead of filtered tap water for the best results.
Shangri-La White Tea
This white tea from Nepal has peppery notes, but also a bright, floral character, similar to the flavors found in teas from the nearby Darjeeling region of India “You get the terroir of the Himalayas — the cloud cover, but also a very rich mineral soil,” Liu says. “White teas are the last processed of all the teas,” she says. “That’s really nice because you’re drinking the tea in its pure form.
Joy Mountain Oolong
Liu says this delicate, lightly oxidized oolong from Taiwan is a true high-mountain tea, which means it was grown at over 8,000 feet elevation. High-mountain oolongs, she says, are naturally fair trade, even when they don’t have that certification, because they are expensive products that bring big rewards for farmers. The quality is also consistently high, partially due to a tea competition in the area that financially incentivizes growers to produce the best-tasting tea. The Joy Mountain oolong tastes buttery, or creamy, but also light and floral, with a nectar-like sweetness.
Dragon Well Green Tea
A true Dragon Well tea, Liu says, has a denomination of origin and needs to come from the Westlake region of China, much like Champagne needs to come from Champagne, France. It has notes of chestnut, and some toastiness, from pan-firing process, with a balanced bitterness and a sweet, honey-like perfume. Japanese green teas (like sencha) are steamed, not pan-fired, Liu says, which is why they tend to have less toastiness 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 bright fruit flavor close to that of a tart apricot or plum.
This assertive black tea from Shandong, the same region of China Liu’s family comes from, has a strong cacao fragrance with flavors of brown sugar and malt. “People from that area are famous for being very direct and assertive, so this tea reflects the people there,” Liu says.
Miro Tea is located at 5405 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle. It’s open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.