Talking Tea Therapy with Portland's Own Tea Monk

Paul “Po” Rosenberg demystifies Chinese-style tea service for curious sippers in need of a chi intervention.

By Mary Stutzman May 14, 2015

Paul “Po” Rosenberg at work. “There hasn’t been a day in years where I couldn’t wait to get out of bed and drink tea,” he says.

Stepping into Heaven’s Tea feels a lot like stepping into an Asian temple—but the real adventure is for your nose. Hundreds of smells line the shelves of this “tea library” stored in canisters and cakes hailing from India, China, and Japan—and the temple's own tea monk knows them all.

Paul “Po” Rosenberg has been poring over fine teas for 20 years, and pouring them just for Portlanders since 2007, when he started his tea school in Southeast Portland.

Here, you won’t find teabags and crowded tables–it’s not Smith or Starbucks. Po serves tea Chinese-style in tiny cups and teaches how to develop a palette for the drink— think wine tasting with tea, but without the pretense.

A collection decades in the making, Po’s “tea library” comprises hundreds of teas from all over the world. “It used to be if you were the emperor you couldn’t get this many teas,” he says.

When people ask where he learned, Po jokes: “Where most people do, you know, the far east—Jersey Shore.” After years working as a chef, Po made his way west to Portland where he took a job in a teahouse and found a calling. Meditation with tea and trips to Taiwan cultivated his different approach to “teatime,” that he says is less about selling cups and more about sipping.

Heaven’s Tea hosts experiences: private or group tea journeys (and even tea hikes) where Po handpicks blends based on the energy of tea.

“Tea doesn’t have to be expensive as long as it’s well grown,” Po says. “It’s like a really bad plastic tomato versus one you grow in your backyard. The way your body receives it and feels nourished is different.”

We asked the tea monk to divulge three myths about tea and how to stay calm with each cup.

Heaven’s Tea serves tea Chinese-style, in tiny cups from tiny teapots made of clay, porcelain, and glass.

Steeping it green

“A big misconception? That green tea is somehow healthy for you. One of the paradoxes is that the more popular tea is usually the lower the quality. Green tea is the most perishable of all teas that needs to be picked within four months and flown over here, but most tea isn’t treated like that. Sitting in a boat for two months isn’t the best thing for something chlorophyll-based. There are definitely amazing green teas, but they’re harder to find in the West. If you want antioxidants, don’t worry about drinking 20 cups of green tea, eat some spinach for God’s sake."

Po’s teas come from all over; he says he can tell where by the taste. “Every place has it’s own flavor which I think is one of the most beautiful things—in a couple of hours we could drink teas from six different places in Asia.”

No ‘true’ brew

"Don’t worry about brewing techniques—buy loose leaf tea and brew it how you like it. All the instructions say ‘brew it for five minutes at this temperature’ but everyone’s teapot is a different size, and everyone’s water is different. Some days I’ll make tea so strong it’s like a shot of whiskey, other days I make it so soft I can drink it all day long—you don’t have to make it the secret Chinese way. Also, never use anything that has a basket because 75 percent of the oils never leave the leaf. Tea needs room to circulate with water to draw out the chemistry; you can use a basket to strain it afterwards."

Buzz off

"People think that teas are supposed to make you feel adrenalized, and get your mind going but basically that’s a sign of toxicity of tea. Real tea sinks the chi and caffeine is a minor component, especially after a tea ages. Simply well-grown tea will never push the chi into your mental center. It calms you. I had one lawyer come drink tea with me who said he hadn’t been that relaxed for 20 years. You can do that with wine or cognac, but it’s only good for about 15 minutes and the picture kind of changes after that…"

Heaven’s Tea is located in Southeast Portland. For address information, and to view events and make appointments, click here or call 503-230-0953.

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