Oolong-ophile

Jake Whiteley is Santa Rosa, California's Mr. Tea

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Santa Rosa's Mr. Tea

Jake Whiteley's tea tastings are a great way to learn what differentiates white, green, oolong, black and Puerh teas.

Jen Siska

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"My tea is a whole different experience," says Jake Whiteley of Santa Rosa's Bungalow Coffee and Tea. "You get to watch the leaves in the French press. You see it unfurl, you see it steep, you see the agony of the leaf. The whole experience is more intimate."

Did he just say "agony of the leaf"? And is he really talking about intimacy in the context of a cuppa? Yes and yes. It may sound extreme, but that's because Whiteley is passionate about tea.

It all began after college, when he was teaching English in Asia. "In a teahouse in Taipei during a typhoon, a bunch of us spent five hours drinking tea and eating watermelon seeds. As the conversation got more focused and intense, I thought, 'This is one amazing beverage.'"

Amazing because the buzz that it gave him was tempered. Because he could drink it for five hours without getting bored. And because of its spectrum of flavors, "from smoky to floral."

At Bungalow, Whiteley sources, blends, and sells premium teas, often to the tune of $55 per pound, and he regularly conducts tea tastings for restaurant people (the brand is being served in restaurants like Healdsburg's Cyrus and Manzanita) and the general public. Tea's time has come, Whiteley says. "For me, the bellwether was when a guy who pulled up in a raised, mud-spattered Chevy truck, wearing tight Wranglers and a cap pulled way back on his head, ordered a cup of Ancient Forest green tea."

Info:  Bungalow Coffee and Tea (tastings $20; reservations required; 540 Larkfield Center, Santa Rosa, Calif.; 707/546-8223)

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