You’ve been warned that the title of this post has nothing to do with Game of Thrones!
Despite having a preference for tea and being intrigued by its complexities, it was only last year that I decided to delve in further and go to a tea tasting class. Although there are many options in London, I was keen on trying something memorable and, upon the recommendation of a good friend, I ended up Teanamu Chaya Teahouse, in Notting Hill.
Teanamu is tucked away into a serene pocket of London – a veritable oasis of calm in clear contrast to London’s frenetic pace. Teanamu’s interiors are equally tranquil, a contemporary take on Asian style that reinforced the zen spirit that engulfed me the minute I stepped indoors.
Pei, the Singaporean host and tea master, had everything impeccably arranged for our tea tasting – tasting cups, pencils, notepads, and the faint hiss of kettles in the background.
Tea tasting is a ritual that commands all our sensory skills and can seem a bit too refined for some. However, Pei has a great sense of humour and his witty remarks make for a very entertaining session. Top teas and clever witticisms – what’s not to like? Not only is Pei gracious and friendly, he has a wealth of knowledge and swiftly answered our numerous questions.
A commendable aspect about this tea tasting session is the small number of participants – in my case only ten. This intimacy makes it seem like we are guests at a tea party with easy banter between as opposed to the ceremonious hush at a class where the secrets of oolong tea are about to be divulged.
Which brings me to the stars of the day, undoubtedly the elegant and exotic teas. We tasted the black dragons which are the oolong teas grown in China’s Wuyi Mountains. Bonus fact: the correct spelling is actually wulong where “wu” means black and “long” means dragon.
I watched the tea leaves in my cup as the tightly curled leaves gracefully unfurled. Wulong teas often feature three to four leaves and a bud; a departure from the standard two leaves and a bud. This is because only the bigger, sturdier leaves are strong enough to withstand the taxing process of processing wulong teas that entails repeated rolling and oxidising.
Tasting the teas had a mystical element and let my imagination drift as I savoured the fine flavours. I was mentally transported to the verdant Wuyi mountain, letting my eyes feast on the lush landscape.
Both the teas’ names and flavours whisked me away into a world of legendary tales. As Pei explained, there are three legends behind the name “Black Dragon”: one has to do with the leaves’ appearance. Dark and glossy, they resemble black dragons.
Another one attributes the name to the Wuyi mountain. According to a third legend, the name stems from the name of a hunter named Dragon who earned the nickname Black Dragon owing to his dark complexion. One day, while he was running after a beast to hunt, the tea leaves in his bag got bruised and began to oxidise. The leaves developed a delicious taste and people decided to name the tea after the hunter.
The most impressive thing to note about wulong teas is their dizzying array of natural flavours and aromas, which is due to the terroir, but to a large extent also to the tea master’s skills. Honey Orchid Phoenix, for example, tasted rather peachy and fruity; Iron Goddess of Mercy had deep floral hints; and yet a third one tasted very nutty.
With his incredible knowledge and engaging explanations, Pei does a great job at bringing the teas to life.
I walked into the class with the aim of satisfying my curiosity about some basic aspects about tea. I walked out of it with an even deeper interest and fascination for it. This is the true beauty about pure tea; it’s an endless journey of discovery that evokes the senses.
At Teanamu I learned so many things on different levels. I learned about the Chinese tea ceremony; I learned technicalities about the production of wulong teas; I learned how to evaluate a tea based on its leaves and liquor; but most importantly I learned to take the time to truly taste a cup of fine tea.
Too often we down a cup of carelessly brewed tea between a phone call and running errands. In our haste, we dump the leaves after one quick brew without giving them a chance to share their story with us. By doing so not only do we disrespect the tea masters’ hard work, but we also kill the magic that tea is trying to pass on to us.
Have you ever tried tea tasting, or taken part at a Chinese tea ceremony? If so please share your comments with us, we’d love to hear from you!
P.S. Apologies for the blurry image – clearly I was a bit tea-drunk when I shot it!
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