Monday, September 21, 2009

All the Tea in Georgetown

I always have to chuckle when people refer to the lovely tea house smack in the middle of Georgetown "a secret gem." In my mind, that is a description more fitting of Leopold's. If Ching Ching Cha appears hidden, this is due to a highly cluttered plain sight. Though it is located in a highly transited stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, it is nestled between 2 very different Georgetown institutions: Filomena's (with its over the top decorations and Clinton patronage) and the Pleasure Place (26 years and counting).

As easy as it may or may not be to find, patrons, even regulars, will always find its calm and austere atmosphere surprising. My favorite feature has always been the skylights, flooding the room with natural light for most of the tea times. Two traditional tea tables (the kind you sit cross-legged at) are at the far edge of the room, while the rest of the space has two and four-tops in laquered rosewood. Metal canisters adorn the walls as well as contain loose tea, which is available for purchase. Ching Ching Cha also strives to educate: the menu has ample descriptions of the teas, their notes and classifications, and the waitress will always present the tea along with some helpful instructions on how to sip it. L. and I both had green tea, and our cups had no handles or infusers. By the second cup (a tea kettle wit its own heat source is on the table so patrons may refresh and infuse as they deem fit) we had gotten the hang of it. Most importantly, Ching Ching Cha does not provide cream, milk, sugar, or sugar substitute. I have always taken the opportunity to experience tea straightforwardly, but I must admit this is not for everyone - Teaism also has an ample selection of teas and does not pontificate over sweeteners.

I chose the Dragon Silver Tips for no better reason than I liked the name. The menu said it was complex, sweet and somewhat floral, making it less astringent than other green teas. The leaves resembled tiny sprigs, and kept their strength for several cups. To start, I had the Chicken Dumplings - L. went for the vegetarian version. The casing was firm but delicate, with a filling of chicken, mushrooms and a hint of cabbage. The 4 dumplings came doused in soy sauce and vinegar, giving them a pleasant smokey overtone.

Since we had a full kettle, an ample appetite and plenty to talk about, L. and I decided to share several sweets. The almond cookies should appease those missing sugar in their tea: they have the crunch of a ginger snap but a more delicate smell, and the absence of any noticeable butter keeps them from overpowering the tea. The coconut tart reminded me of pound cake in texture, but with a lighter feel. The coconut is more noticeable as an essence, and it reminded me of the pineapple buns that dim sum carts often have. The standout was the lotus seed paste wrapped in puff pastry. Reminiscent of roti dough, the lotus paste had a nutty flavor, and the puff pastry had a hint of salt in it that allowed for contrast. Though the menu is not extensive, everything that we had drew our attention back to the tea - which may be the whole point.

Come in, enjoy the lack of wi fi and the absence of the alt-rock soundtrack. Enjoy the taste of tea in actual china. And if you feel that strongly about it, take a bag of Yunnan Gold home and sweeten it to your heart's content.

Ching Ching Cha on Urbanspoon
Ching Ching Cha Tea House
1063 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington DC, 20007

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