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Leaves of Fortune

TC Tea
Christopher Gardner

Teaworthy Vessel: TC Tea brings the ambiance of a teahouse to a Lundy Avenue strip mall.

TC Tea brews dozens of elixirs--hot and cold, sweet and tart, delicate and full-bodied

By Andrew X. Pham

ACCORDING TO LU YU, China's historical "tea master," tea was perhaps the way to immortality. He claimed it a mental stimulant, a drink for body and soul. In the year 760, during the Tang Dynasty, Lu Yu published his Classic of Tea, a sort of "Tao of Tea" in three volumes and 10 chapters, expounding on the techniques, virtues and philosophy of tea.

His classical tea was a pure, serene drink taken without food and untainted by milk, rice, sugar, ginger, scallions or "a myriad of vulgarities" that the peasants liked to put in their tea. Yet these days Chinese cannot speak of yum cha ("drinking tea" in Cantonese) without also implying the eating of dim sum. In addition to serving snacks, teahouses such as TC Tea in San Jose blend tea with taro, green bean, egg, coconut, papaya, menthol, kumquat, rose and a dozen other wonderful "vulgarities."

Any style, any flavor. Shaken or stirred. Classical or contemporary. Hot or cold. TC Tea serves all sorts of tea elixirs along with a brief but quaint selection of vegetarian dim sum, documenting their repertoire in an encyclopedic 22-page menu. It's something of a feat for a modest strip-mall cafe, cute and almost homey. A predominantly Asian American clientele, a collection of tea sets (for sale) and a large display case exhibiting Chinese porcelain figurines lend the place its true teahouse flavor.

On the menu, dim sum are listed under "Dessert" although only three of the 11 vegetarian items might pass for post-meal sweets. Better than its equivalent at expensive restaurants, the turnip cake ($2) is a flat dumpling lightly fried and served with a spicy red sauce. Two other dim sum that go well with tea are smoke-cured soy bean cakes (sliced and eaten like slivers of cheese) and chewy rice-cake balls (glutinous rice dough rolled in crushed peanuts). Overall, the "desserts" are better than the house's "Healthy Meals" ($4.25­$6.25), which may be healthy but are not particularly tasty.

Popular refreshments among the crowd of foreign-exchange students from Taiwan are the cold flavored teas served in goblets with marble-sized tapioca pearls drunk through jumbo straws. The honeydew melon milk black tea ($3 with tapioca, $2 without), for instance, is a mix of sweetened melon extract, milk and chilled tea poured over chewy tapioca. The hawthorn-berry lemon tea ($3 with tapioca), on the other hand, tastes like a fanciful lemonade. The bar also brews mulled teas with various flavors suitable for cool evenings. Purists will appreciate brand names such as Ten-Lu and Shining-Star brewed in traditional pots ($3­$7).

TC Tea House isn't just an alternative to coffeehouses and juice bars; it serves some really luscious, thirst-quenching beverages.

TC Tea is located at 1663 Lundy Ave. in San Jose.

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From the June 5-11, 1997 issue of Metro

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