It’s been a busy couple of months since I lasted posted a blog article. Belle & I went to Australia in March for my cousin’s wedding, where we devoted a few days to hunting out good tea in Sydney. We then spent most of April in Yunnan for the spring tea picking season. We learnt the entire process of making puer - picking, wilting, frying, rolling, drying, steaming & pressing the leaves ourselves. We made lots of new tea friends and fell in love with Xishuangbanna. We can’t wait to go back! But we also ran perilously short of money. Since returning to Shanghai, I’ve started freelancing full-time, which is exciting & challenging but not leaving much time for blogging.
Belle manning our stall at Central Studio's spring fair in Shanghai
Luckily Belle is taking over the helm to realize our dream of opening our own tea shop. We rented a stall at Central Studio’s spring market, which gave us a lot of learnings about our potential customers and what they like. Best of all we met some fellow small business owners who gave us good advice on how to get started. More importantly, everyone saw how passionate we are about tea, and word of mouth has brought new opportunities. We are now helping Bike + Friends put together a unique tea offering for their newly opened café bar in Shanghai. We’ve also found a web server and a designer to start building our online shop. So whilst the blog has been silent, behind the scenes Tea Urchin is sailing along at quite a nice clip.
But sadly, I won’t have time to write the long blog articles I used to write, so I’m switching to a photo narrative style to share our recent stories. I hope each picture speaks a thousand words. Enjoy the ride!
Let’s rewind back to March.
Sydney through the eyes of a tea lover
When one thinks of a tea house in Sydney, images of high tea at the Queen Victoria Building or Strand Arcade come to mind. But Chinese tea culture is also beginning to find a place in modern Australia. I set out to rediscover my hometown, by hunting down some new tea experiences. First stop was lunch at the 天仁 TenRen teahouse in Chatswood. Whilst TenRen is a popular Taiwanese chain that can be found throughout Asia, the Sydney version is a friendly, family run affair with an outdoor garden hidden out back, and an interesting selection of tea flavoured snacks & drinks.
Puer infused beef brisket noodles at TenRen teahouse - delicious!
I was happy to see they even carried some Puer, albeit in the form of mini tuo's mislabelled as "Tou Cha Black Bud". I was given a free sample as a reward for correcting their pinyin.
T2's "tou (sic) cha black bud"
The black bud dissolved quickly in water and was rather tepid for my taste, but that's missing the point. T2 is all about the retail experience - great design, cheap & cheerful novelty teas & impulse buying. I got to try Rooibos African bush tea for the first time. It produces a deep red liquor that tastes surprisingly light & sweet, but the thin, desiccated twigs float & make for a challenging pour if using a gaiwan.
A close look at Rooibos - sweet African bush tea
Note to self: next time use a filter!
Rooibos - a fortune tellers delight
T2's Autumn blend – green tea, orange, rose & raisins
I was told T2's Autumn blend is one of their best sellers. It looked so pretty, so tempting, I had to give it a try. But like so many blends, it's more of a tea soup than tea. The tea flavour was pushed into the background, drowned out by a cacophony of astringent citrus & sweet raisin & rose. For me, the enjoyment was purely visual.
2011 - the year of the rabbit
Next stop on our tea tour was the newly opened White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, where we enjoyed the collection of Chinese contemporary art, and shared a pot of Rose Oolong in the Tea Shop.
Pretty in Pink: Rose Oolong
Set in an old knitting factory, the White Rabbit tea shop is beautifully put together, combining Chinese antique furniture, old birdcages & modern art, but the tea itself was disappointing. The rose oolong was bland and flavourless after one refill. On the other extreme, the aroma of the milk oolong was so overpowering, it smelt like infant milk formula. Nevertheless, it was heartening to see Chinese tea culture establishing itself in the heart of parochial Sydney.
Bird cages hanging from the ceiling of the White Rabbit tea shop
We also spent an evening admiring my Aunty Susan’s antique collection, including yixing pots, porcelain tea boats & Malaysian peranakan furniture exquisitely in-laid with marble & mother of pearl. I leave you with some of my favourite pieces: