Tea up

July 2008

Coffee is out there. Tea, on the other hand, is in here (he points to his head). Coffee is action, tea contemplation. Sydney is a coffee town but, just occasionally, don't you yearn for a really good cup of tea?

I want to introduce you to two very different tea experiences.

At the Sussex Street entrance to the Sussex Centre, at Dragon Espresso, a tiny hole-in-the-wall on the left as you walk in, Christina Wong sells takeaway coffee and Ceylon Tea Hong Kong style. Her father, Wong So, has had tea shops on the Kowloon side in Hong Kong since 1950. Dad sends her the Ceylon base and she blends it with 12 other teas. It sits on top of a simmer pad, brewing, and you drink it with condensed milk. Strong and delicious. Her coffee isn't bad, either.

But for a truly serene Chinese tea experience, surrender yourself to the knowledge, ritual and the astonishing range of teas at Zensation (656 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Ph 9319 2788). Originally a Chinese art and antique shop below owner Raymond Leung's design studio (among other work that he does, he makes beautiful lanterns), it has been remodelled as a tea house cum art and antique store. Raymond knows his tea and if you sit at the bar with him he will lead you through a selection of teas the like of which you have never tasted - the remarkable milky oolong from Taiwan, a tea that changes flavours with each successive cup, from fragrant creamy vanilla all the way to lime. Or pu erh, a twice-fermented tea of legend and romance (see the tea geek site www.pu-erh.net), sold in a hard disc and better when aged. Pu erh is an acquired taste - earthy, minerally, robust.

Raymond, and on Saturdays his daughter Christina, will show you how to prepare the tea and also offer you little tea nibbles such as tsin doi, little sesame balls filled with redbean paste, and dam taat, egg custard tarts. It is an experience. And where coffee revs you up and gets you going, Raymond's teas will relax your body and clear your mind. Maybe that's just what we need after a hard Friday nigh

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