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Story and photographs by Eric Lindberg


Y


“You! Come in here now!


Sit down and drink some tea or I take you downstairs and work you over!” The booming voice comes from a short Asian man of indeterminate age. Pausing briefl y in the doorway of a teashop in San Francisco’s Chinatown, I never suspected I was about to enter the orbit of


Uncle Gee. Wisecracking and brimming with


bonhomie, he waves me into his shop. “How old you think I am?” Sensing an approaching set-up, I err on the side of fl attery and guess early 60s. “Seventy- eight!” he yells at me and points to a seat at the tasting bar. “Sit! We’re going to have tea!” Uncle Gee runs Vital Tea Leaf, a small


chain of teashops around Chinatown. I’m not the only one his ebullient persona has lured in; the store is packed with tourists and locals. Glass jars of exotic teas line the walls. Two servers wield whisks, sieves, pots and tiny cups as they offer tastes of a dozen varieties at the bar. “When hot water touches tea, it wakes


it up.” Uncle Gee switches effortlessly into poetic rhapsody when describing the preparation and benefi ts of his fra- grant infusions. I have no idea what I’m sipping but it’s unlike any tea I’ve ever tasted. Forget Earl Gray and English Breakfast. With names like Virgin Angel, Blue People, and Soaking Beauty,


EnCompass September/October 2011 31


San Francisco


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