Taiwan is truly a tea lover's paradise. There are tea shops on practically every corner, and I would estimate there are between twenty and thirty of them within walking distance of our home. Each one is a little different: though they carry many of the same beverages, each tea shop mixes the ingredients according to their own recipes, and many offer specialties not easily to be found elsewhere.
There are several tea shops I frequent more than others, for various reasons. (Perhaps I'll feature some of them in a future blog post.) But my current favorite is called Georg Peck.
Besides various types of green, milk, and black tea, they offer fancy coffees and fruit smoothies. However, I have to confess that I'm really not a fan of some of the drinks I've tried there. The other day I had their pearl milk tea and didn't much care for the flavor. Their ji cha (kumquat green tea) is okay, but I realized later that they just make it with citron tea (a marmalade-like goop) stirred into warm water (or maybe into green tea?) Not bad, but I can do the same thing at home cheaper. I also don't recommend their sesame milk tea (pictured below). I thought the flavor sounded interesting, but it turns out it's made from crushed black sesame seeds stirred into milk tea, and it settles to the bottom in a sludgy layer unless you constantly stir it (much like the ji cha in that regard, actually).
However, I do like Georg Peck's smoothies, even though the smoothie category on the menu is rather scarily called "Mouthfeel Slush" (yes, there's an English menu posted on the wall). The mango smoothie is my favorite so far. They're very refreshing on a hot day, and much healthier than many smoothies you'd buy in the States, since they're made with crushed ice and not ice cream. (Georg Peck does offer ice cream in some of their teas, float-style, though I have yet to try those. As we get closer to summer I'm sure I will.)
I also like their hazelnut milk tea and caramel milk tea (yum!). The passion fruit green tea is okay... nothing to write home about. I haven't tried many of their coffee drinks yet, but the iced caramel macchiato is, in my opinion (and granted I'm not a coffee connoisseur) just as good as Starbucks', at less than half the price. Ooh, and the warm ginger milk tea is to die for on a cold afternoon!
But you're probably wondering what the big deal is. Aren't there tea shops that carry more drinks I like and fewer that I dislike?
Maybe. But my favorite thing about Georg Peck isn't the drinks.
A couple of months ago I started taking my laptop to Starbucks to work on my next book away from the distractions of home. But after I had used up my gift card, I decided I was too cheap to keep paying Starbucks prices, and it didn't seem right to sit there and write without buying anything. So I looked for other options and discovered a new tea shop in the neighborhood that had a couple of little tables and chairs out front (an uncommon sight around here; most tea shops are just designed for customers to walk up, order their teas at the counter, and leave).
I got someone to teach me how to say, "Is it okay if I sit at this table and work on my computer?" in Chinese, and successfully recited my line to the shop owner (who I later found out speaks excellent English). She assured me it was fine, and ever since then I've parked myself in front of Georg Peck for three or four hours straight at least once a week, spending quality time with my characters in Alasia and Malorn.
I've gotten to know the tea shop employees, who are always happy to see me. Most of them are at least conversational in English, and sometimes we chat a little. I found out that their names are Lydia (the boss; at the front in the picture below), Ingrid, Penny, Nina, and House. Yes, House.
One of the first times I was there, the weather turned cold, and I was wearing short sleeves. Lydia walked out to where I was shivering at my little table and handed me her own jacket! I gratefully put it on, and it helped me last another hour or two. When I was finally ready to leave, I tried to hand it back, but she told me to wear it home and just "bring it back next time".
When I returned the jacket the next day, I brought her a tiny jar of my homemade jam to thank her. Later, as I was typing away and sipping the tea I had bought, Lydia came out to bring me a free donut! (I don't think they actually sell donuts there, so I'm not sure where it came from.) A couple of times the ladies have given me a second tea for free after I've finished my first one. Last week I brought them a plate of homemade gluten-free chocolate cake (I was trying out a new recipe and figured they might like it since it contained beans, a very common ingredient in Taiwanese desserts). They reciprocated by giving me a bag of candy on my next visit! I guess it's my turn to bring them something next time. Hmm, I'll have to think what.
So, that's why I like Georg Peck. Not for the drinks as much as for the people. It's fun going somewhere where people know me and are glad to see me, and I love that we actually know each other's names now. In spite of the distractions inherent in working on a public sidewalk, I find that I can still concentrate on my writing better there than at home.
Have you ever been to Georg Peck? I found out it's an international chain, but for you Morrisonians, the closest one is just past the afternoon market, right next door to what I call the Black Spot (also known as Tea Shop) and catty corner from QQ's. If you've been there, I'd love to hear in the comments what your favorite drink is. If you haven't yet, you should try it!