Most nights, I go somewhere in the hills behind Riverdale, buried in all my warm clothes, and there, standing still, I look at the sky for long hours, until the cold air makes its way through my layers. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, an opening in the clouds reveals dim lights over the northern horizon. Or, if not lights, I see shooting stars.
Last time I went there, the clouds were far enough south to let the starry night shine over my head. I waited patiently for the green halo as I comfortably sat on the broken line of the distant mountains to come my way, but I waited in vain. The stars drew their map above the land and I watched until I got cold again. Big Dipper, Cassiopea, Orion, Pegasus, Piscies, Aries, Pleiades… the lights never came.
The next morning, I woke up around eleven and went to the Alpine Bakery. It wasn’t my first time there. I go there for late breakfast after an unsuccessful night of lights watching.
The lady who took my money was charming. Her name was Heidi. She was the first “born in the Yukon” person I’ve met in my travels. And she has husky eyes: beautiful pale blue, almost gray. Behind her, I saw Charles, sitting peacefully after all the bread had been baked for the day. Charles is the chief baker and is a Quebecker like me. He invited me behind the counter to share a soup and have a chat. He seemed in a good mood. The dough had risen and the customers were happy.
Charles really has something with bread; he’s got the twist to bake and the passion for it. The man’s here every day but Sundays long before dawn and makes his thing, some of it in the old brick oven, and some in the more modern electric oven, until the clock shows noon.
Charles introduced me to his colleagues, a very fine bunch of people. I had already met Heidi, but I also got to know Myriam, Michka, Dino, Clara, Yuji, and all the others. For one reason or another, I happened to learn that Yuji liked tea and, before I left, I promised to bring some the next day so we could all have a warm drink over lunch.
It snowed during the night and I woke up in the morning to one of those colorless city views. I didn’t need to open the door to feel the cold wind gusting across the streets. I thought this was no weather to go out in, but then, as I remembered my promise to bring tea over at the Alpine Bakery, I felt all excited.
I took my Feng Qing cake along with my teapot and stepped into the glacial noon air, making my way to the building with the red roof. To be honest, it wasn’t even -10°C outside, but I wanted it to be as cold as possible so that the tea would feel better.
When I unwrapped the stone pressed leaf disc, Yuji’s eyes suddenly opened wide like Halloween pumpkins.
Not too many people have tasted this kind of tea. Fewer recognize it.
Yuji is the assistant baker at Alpine Bakery. He’s originally from Japan but has been living on the road for more than ten years already. He encountered pu’er tea along his trip through South East Asia and China. Wherever he goes, he carries tea from different regions and cultures. I later found it very interesting to watch him take out the stash of his many teas. And not only tea, but herbal teas as well. He’s also been doing some picking around town this summer and can tell a thing or two about what grows in the area.
As I stuffed the teapot with the delicate leaves, Yuji took care of providing boiling water and cups for drinking. We sat, a few of us together, and shared stories over the fuming pot.
It soon became too cold in town to stand all night in the hills behind Riverdale hoping for the northern lights. After only a few minutes of standing still, my toes would hurt and my nose would start dripping like a broken faucet. I gave up on lights watching. But that didn’t bother me too much since I knew that more cold meant more occasions to share tea with some very fine people.