Thursday, April 26, 2012

A quintessential NW teahouse: Zen Dog's Tea House Gallery

the sign says it all

Here's a little treat for you -- a field trip to Zen Dog's Tea House Gallery, a beloved Seattle haven for tea lovers and community.  This place is special.  No doubt about it.  Zen Dog (or ZD as he likes to be called) has built a whole world of loveliness, a temple to tea.  Every nook and cranny, every turn and vista beckons the eye to admire, the body to relax and the heart to open.

main floor tea table and gathering area
ZD has some magic going on here.  You sense it the moment you approach the front gate, but it's when you step inside and are invited to sit for tea, often with several others already seated around the table, that you start to feel the draw of the place.  The conversation flows easily, buoyed by the good tea prepared gong fu style by ZD, or sometimes by other guests.  Before long you find yourself talking with strangers as though they were old friends.  The crowd is always delightfully diverse.  All ages, all backgrounds, tea lovers and tea novices, neighbors out for a walk and visitors from afar, all are welcomed and honored and made to feel at home.  As a result, the conversations at the tea table are engaging and full of interest.  While the tea is always good, I believe it's the spirit that ZD lives and manifests which is responsible for this very real sense of welcome and community.  In a world so full of rush and salesmanship where we all too often feel anonymous or preyed upon, the joyful, no-strings-attached hospitality at Zen Dog's is a rare oasis.  It's no wonder people seek this place out, tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood in the far NW of Seattle.

small Dragon tea table in the upstairs gallery
The tea menu here is just as diverse as the guests, with a large selection of all manner of teas, including puerhs.  There's an array of interesting blends available too, all of which were created by regulars to the tea house.  While I was asking ZD about a few of them (like the one with the can't-miss name "Folsom Prison") it became apparent that many of these blends were discovered at his tea table as guests would come to sit and share their favorite teas and tea stories.  The Folsom Prison blend was thanks to a tea friend who shared her favorite blend but didn't have a name for it.  When she pulled out her guitar and started playing Johnny Cash songs... well, there you have it...

The Tea House hosts many organized gatherings, as well.  There are monthly lunar celebrations at the tea house, and while I have yet to attend one I hear they're full of great music and poetry along with good tea and good people and community.  Another gathering that's been on the calendar recently are the "Tea and Chocolate Pairing" events with local chocolatier Aaron Barthel of Intrigue Chocolates.  Barthel and ZD have even teamed up to produce a special tea-and-chocolate truffle bar (available at ZD's place), aptly named "Zen Dog Bark" (and yes, it's yummy!).  Another frequent guest speaker here is Harrison Moretz of the Taoist Studies Institute in Seattle.  Also, about once a month the tea house is host to talks from the Venerable Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche of the nearby Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, and occasionally teachers from another local Buddhist group, the Blue Heron Zen Community, will come to give talks.  Although ZD himself will tell you he ascribes no labels to himself when it comes to spiritual paths and that his spiritual practice is simply tea, it's not surprising that many in the local contemplative communities have found a kindred spirit at his tea table.

upstairs tea table and gathering area
Shall I tell you about the artwork and calligraphy covering the walls?  The beautiful antique furniture filling the rooms?  The abundance of comfortable seating of all kinds, inviting you to sit and hang out for awhile?  The sparkling cut-glass jars that fill the countertops and which store many of the dried flower buds and teas?  The enormous yixing canisters storing loose leaf puerhs and the smaller ones full of cakes?  I haven't even touched on the beauty found outside in the gardens, the koi pond and the lovely outdoor tea pagoda built just last year, thanks to the hands and help of many tea friends.  So much to take in and appreciate here.  The pictures below will offer a few more glimpses of the wonders of this place.  At ZD's it's not so much a matter of "If you build it, they will come," although he's clearly built a place of beauty.  Rather, in ZD's case it's "If you be it, they will come," because all you see and experience here is a reflection of the man himself.  It's his home and his life, and the community that has blossomed here has it's roots deeply planted and nurtured in ZD's heartfelt embodiment of the spirit and essence of Cha Dao.

Tea as a Way of Life.

another view of the main floor gallery
view to the gardens
koi pond and meditation rock
wonderful tea friends, Zen Dog and Stephen Bonnell
ZD's always-present footwear of choice :)


  1. Wow! I've heard great things about this place a few times... but I've never made it over to visit (any place north of downtown Seattle feels like another planet for me right now). But this place really looks wonderful. Thanks for this virtual tour!

  2. It's embarrassing that I've not been there yet since my office is just a few blocks away. I'll make more of an effort soon.

  3. Brett and Cinnabar -- You two definitely have to visit here sometime, just for the experience. But it's true, northend and southend are so distant (Cinnabar, can't believe you actually make that commute each day! Hopefully it's not during peak commuter traffic times)

  4. My lovely companion from Canton Province and myself happend upon ZD's Tea House and Gallery one midweek afternoon. We thought we would just take a 'quick' look inside....spent a delightful couple of hours enjoying the hospitality of ZD and his two guests sitting and sipping tea around the tea table.....just lovely....michael and ka li

  5. ZD's place is a treasure! Plan to stay awhile. ZD and the "tea will take care of you".

  6. Great post! I became friends with ZD after blogging about him several years ago. Your post and photos really capture the essence of the man and the tea.

    Pacific Northwest Seasons