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A bright August moon

Alia Pirzada serves up the perfect cup of tea at her new Bjune Drive teahouse, August Moon.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Alia Pirzada serves up the perfect cup of tea at her new Bjune Drive teahouse, August Moon.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Alia Pirzada’s new teahouse cozies up to downtown Winslow.

Even driving a zippy orange Beetle, Alia Pirzada couldn’t outrun her past.

Of course, the car was going four miles per hour on Winslow Way during the Grand Old Fourth parade. And it was decorated to resemble a tea pot.

Pirzada’s son leaned out the window and called to the crowd:

“Drink oolong tea! Eat pot stickers!”

But bystanders recognized the driver and owner of the new August Moon teahouse from an earlier incarnation. “Teahouse Kuan Yin! Teahouse Kuan Yin!” they shouted back.

Pirzada said it’s remarkable how many people walk through the doors of August Moon, located in the new Seabreeze complex on Bjune Drive, and tell her how much it reminds them of Kuan Yin. They ask her if she’s familiar with that fixture in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.

Intimately – she opened its doors in 1990. And while she’s happy to have emulated the atmosphere that Seattle tea aficionados came to cherish over the years, she’s long since moved on.

After selling the business in 2001, she turned to other pursuits, among them adopting her son from Pakistan, completing construction on a straw bale house in Poulsbo – every post and bale set by her own hand – and two months ago, setting out to satisfy the needs of tea-drinkers and tea-drinkers-to-be on Bainbridge.

Gazing up at the elegantly lettered tea menu, its columns divided into the categories of black, oolong, green, herbal tisane and white teas, each category containing several specific types, a slack-jawed silence descends.

Pirzada graciously steps in.

“I’ll ask you these questions, and we’ll get you what you want,” she says.

A quiz ensues. Caffeine? To be enjoyed with or without milk? Full-bodied or mild? Should the tea develop a bite as it steeps or stay mellow?

The field narrows with each response, and the final selection is Cameronian, a black tea described as resembling merlot or “a deep red liquor which is soft and round, and never bitter.”

She’s right on the money; the tea holds its own with milk and remains smooth over the course of an hour, even as it steeps and darkens under its cozy.

With a degree in South Asian studies and over 18 years of travel in those lands to study, sample and import teas, Pirzada’s knowledge of tea and how to make it taste best is as vast as her tea selections themselves.

She’s finding a sophistication among Bainbridge tea drinkers. Nearly every day she serves matcha, the ceremonial Japanese powdered green tea whipped to a froth with a bamboo whisk. With its bitterness and caffeine punch, it’s no tea for sissies.

Pirzada says that perhaps because of the warm weather, customers are gravitating toward her food more than the tea, including hum bow, quiches and pot stickers, which are “flying out the door.”

She incorporates tea into many of the restaurant’s sweet and savory specialties, including a green tea torte made by her step-daughter; the August Moon cheesecake, her own recipe, which has less fat than regular cheesecake and is served with a choice of basil, oolong, Ceylon or green tea syrup; and a broccoli tofu rice bowl with miso mustard or peanut sauce.

Also surprising to Pirzada is that while a number of people have chosen to hold meetings at August Moon because it’s quiet and still un-crowded, she’s doing a lot of to-go business.

She suspects customers are taking dinners home to their nearby condominiums. And with the number of new residences in the vicinity of the Seabreeze, Pirzada has decided to take steps to woo Winslow’s singles.

Her late hours offer an alternative to “the bar thing,” and soon she’ll start singles Pictionary every Friday night.

“They’re not used to having nowhere to go at night,” she said. “So I figure it will serve a need.”

Pirzada hopes that as the weather gets cooler, people will come to see the teahouse as a community gathering place.

She does wonder whether the prospect of sitting alone with a quiet cup of tea might intimidate people or make them feel exposed. But with her relaxed space and serene veranda, she hopes to dispel those fears.

“At a teahouse, you’re not actually alone,” she said. “It’s a good place to sit and be a part of, even if you don’t say a word.”

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Sa-tea-light

August Moon teahouse, 123 Bjune Drive, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily except Tuesday. Stop by for singles Pictionary every Friday evening starting Aug. 24 and for a courtyard screening of the 1956 film “The Teahouse of the August Moon,” for which the shop is named, from 8 to 11 p.m. Aug. 28. Call 842-1883 for details.

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