Sometimes the best discoveries are just out of plain sight.
That’s why it seems fitting that Hilo’s newest tea room won’t be found in its own storefront, but rather in the back of one of downtown’s most unique clothing shops.
Set in what used to be a cluttered storage room for a former surplus store, the tea room at Perfect Harmony offers a blend of comfort and culture, with teak furniture from Indonesia and musical acts on weekends playing instruments from across the globe. Tea pouring etiquette following the Gong Fu tea ceremony may also be shown to customers.
Perfect Harmony owner Juil Lee opened the tea room Feb. 28. The tea room can also be accessed via an alley when the store is closed.
Planning began about 1 and a half years earlier when the building’s owners offered her the space, but Lee realized she already had a lot of what she needed.
The furniture she acquired seven years before on a trip to Indonesia and the tea service was largely already part of her collection.
“It feels like an extension of my home,” she said.
“I brought a lot of my collection here.”
That includes the Gong Fu clay and glass teapots that go with the Chinese tea ceremony she preforms.
The ceremony, as performed at the tea room, involves rinsing the tea service and a small Buddha statue with hot water before steeping the leaves. The tea service sits on a wooden tray.
Once the leaves are properly steeped, the tea is poured into a small pitcher for serving.
“It’s very uplifting for your spirit,” Lee said as she poured samples in round, handleless cups.
The tea leaves are whole, not bagged, and the tea room offers as many as 31 options from China, Korea and the Big Island.
The teas vary from green, oolong, white, black and even a fermented variety called pu-erh.
This dark, earthy tea is stored in blocks, and, like wine, only gets better over time, Lee said.
The pu-erh offered at the tea room was made in 1999 and comes from China.
Tea made from mamaki leaves is also available.
Lee said she gets a mix of tea experts and novices. Those fairly new to the beverage sometimes find a few facts surprising, she said.
One is that all the tea varieties come from the same plant. Only through processing do they gain their distinct qualities.
“I feel like people are learning about it a lot more,” Lee said.
She described her tea as all high quality, though prices range depending on their rarity. A menu also provides background on many of the teas, including where they come from.
Lee said she tried as many as 60 teas before selecting which ones to serve.
“It was a long process,” she said.
After 10 years of running Perfect Harmony, which offers handmade clothing and handicrafts, Lee said she is glad to have this opportunity.
“It’s more social and there wasn’t anything else like this,” she said.
“And it’s something I loved.”
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.