Monday, 16 February 2009


On to happier tales.

Last weekend, I caught the bus to Sydney in order to attend a tea-tasting workshop thingy (dragging my Sydney-resident friend M along with me) at Zensation tea house (656 Bourke Street, Redfern, 02 9319 2788). This happens to be literally almost around the corner from M’s apartment, but neither of us had any idea it was there until she came across a mention of Zensation in the Sydney Morning Herald. Such is life. Naturally she notified me immediately, and I booked myself bus tickets almost straight away.

I will admit to having a slight pang over abandoning my husband for nearly a whole weekend, primarily to attend a two-and-a-half hour tea tasting with a friend, but I did buy him half a dozen cupcakes from Sparkle (and a few other things that he received on Valentines Day) to help make up for it.

But oh. My. God. It was SO worth it. There are not many reasons why I would consider moving to Sydney but Zensation is one of them.

There were five teas on the tasting menu that we sampled. We started out with iced and slightly sweetened hibiscus herbal tea – beautifully ruby-red and exceptionally refreshing (fortunately it wasn’t too hot on Saturday, but my friend and I
 had spent 3 hours or so wandering round markets and things, and it was good to sit down and sip a cool drink).

Then things kicked off in earnest. Basically we worked our way from lighter to darker, milder to stronger teas. The first was White Peony, a new-style white tea from China, accompanied by the most divine little almond cookies – crumbly, slightly salty and a little bit sweet. This was followed by a green tea – Zensation Jade – with a strong yellow liquor and cleansing, astringent taste. The food accompaniment to this tea was edamame (fresh soy beans boiled in salty water and eaten from the pods); I had never sampled these before but they were delicious and I intend to try and source some to prepare at home.

As each of the teas was being brewed, the tea house’s owner, Mr Raymond Leung, spoke about 
the history of tea, its production and its appreciation, even writing the Chinese characters 
for ‘tea’ and ‘the way of tea’ in beautiful calligraphy on translucent paper for people to take home (naturally, I scored one of those). And once we got to the third tea – a Taiwanese ‘milky oolong’ – we were treated to a demonstration of gong fu brewing by the resident tea master.

The milky oolong was my favourite. What am I saying? It was sublime, a revelation of exquisiteness. Incredibly floral and peachy flavoured, with a buttery taste coming through in the second and third infusions that made me and M think of Danish pastries and apple or apricot pie. Not that we needed any of those; we got custard tarts instead. This was one of the most beautiful teas I have ever tasted; I bought some to take home.

Next on the list was a cooked puerh. I can’t remember how long this one had been aged for. It was a deep coppery colour with a strong earthy taste, almost a little coffee-like in flavour, not astringent at all. I haven’t had proper pu-erh before so I was curious to see how I would like this one. 

I think at present I currently still prefer oolong, green and regular black teas, but I will be intrigued to try more pu-erh in future. This one was served with steamed dim sims – my friend is vegetarian, so we passed on those, and instead sampled some taro-flavoured cream wafers (interesting!).

The finale was a bouquet tea ball brewed in a glass teapot over a small candle warmer; a waving mass of green leaves sewn together with globe amaranth, lily and jasmine flowers floating above them. The sticky rice flour dumpling filled with sweet red bean paste was delicious and paired beautifully.

The whole tea house is gorgeously set up – the walls are filled with tea canisters, pu-erh beengs, Yixing teapots in fanciful shapes and varying sizes, gorgeous gong fu cups, incense and other Chinese wares. I came away with a Yixing pot shaped like a pumpkin, a set of gong fu cups decorated with goldfish, and the milky oolong… but I’ll be back for more whenever I can manage it.


  1. The milky oolong sounds great. There is something about oolong teas in general that never fails to surprise me with their multitudes of flavors. Perhaps it is due to all the processing that the tea leaves go through to make that wonderful cup of oolong!

  2. Yes, I have been reading a bit more about oolong lately, it is a very interesting subject, so many variables come into play! I can well see why some people go absolutely nuts for oolong! :)

  3. i just tried a milk oolong, from isn't it crazy, how creamy smelling and tasting it is? i love it.

    and white peony is great too- i discovered it this summer and would brew it in cold water, in the fridge, overnight. that way you have a nice, cool, sweet pot of it waiting for you over breakfast.

    (of course, the thought of iced tea right now- it's so cold here in ny- is insane.)

    hope you get the gas turned back on asap- otherwise you may need to make a fire outside and have tea the real old-fashioned way!

  4. I am loving cold-brewing teas, it just works so well! I am curious to try some of the milk oolong cold-brewed... I reckon that could be really good...


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