Monday, November 25, 2013
Gather ye rosebuds
If you drive down Wilshire Boulevard in mid-city Los Angeles, you wouldn't expect to find an oasis of serenity in this urban setting, nor in the steel and glass corporate buildings that line this, one of the busiest streets in North America.
But there are a lot of paradoxes in Koreatown, and one of them is that this robust and vivid culture also values the quiet serenity of time spent in contemplation and conversation with friends. When you step in from the busy Wilshire sidewalk into Hwa Sun Ji Tea and Coffee, you feel your pulse slow and your mind ease.
The space is pleasant, with seating areas separated by bamboo screens for privacy. The chairs are cushioned with pretty pink and green silk cushions. There are also rooms with even more privacy, with low tatami seating, around the room's perimeter. There is a fountain, gently plashing, and flowers. Quiet soothing music plays softly.
The menu offers a variety of teas, many of the traditional medicinal or herbal remedies for ailments; also teas that sooth the soul and cleanse the body. There are true teas and chai, but also teas made from dried fruits, roots or grains. There are traditional Korean dessert beverages, including a punch made from dried persimmon and spices; and you can also get pat-bing-su - a wildly sweet concoction of shaved ice, ice cream, sweet syrups and toppings, much beloved by young urban Korean-Americans and immigrants.
I ordered rose tea, or Jang Mi Cha. It's said to relax nerves, help bowel troubles and menstrual pain. While I no longer need relief from menstrual pain, it's always good to relax nerves and avoid troubled bowels - but mostly I ordered it because I thought it would be pretty.
And pretty it was. Little pink rosebuds steeped in the hot water in a small crystal-clear pot, and the waitress brought an insulated pitcher with more water, to add as I desired. The delicious scent of roses wafted up from the teapot, but rose tea has a bright sour taste to it, along with the floral notes.
I ordered an assortment of traditional Korean cookies and sweetmeats - though I knew it was more than I could eat that afternoon. But I couldn't resist.
There was a small plate of wafer cookies, rolled up - similar to those you might see in a European cafe. But though these were sweet crispy dough, at their center they had a lacing of salty vegetal seaweed.
Another plate held a quartet of treats.
One little flower-shaped bun, damp with sweet syrup; four little chunks of something that looked like Rice Krispie Treats; some light-as-air puffed cylinders - they had the texture of cheetos puffs, but were bland and delicate - and little dense bites of dried fruit rolled around walnut meats.
I sat quietly in the pretty room. I poured the clear, pinky-rose tea into a clear glass tea bowl. I nibbled the odd, delicate little treats, and I read my novel.
Around the room, other tables were occupied. By the wall, a quartet of young women quietly gossiped and tittered. A young couple sat together over there. By the window, an older couple sat, and then were joined by another man, perhaps an uncle, or someone's brother in law.
My husband will tell you that I am not one for quiet contemplation and meditation, but I will tell you that my pulse slowed as I sipped, and I spent a leisurely time in this pretty room. But my restless nature soon spurred me on, and I asked for the check and a box to takeaway the rest of the sweets.
I need some practice at serenity, I guess. But now I know where to go to get it.