A weekend in Sydney is often fun, particularly if you mix business with pleasure. And in the tea business, business IS pleasure.
We flew to Sydney last week to catch up with our friend Julia.
At World Tea Expo 2013, we met Julia, and it’s fair to say that Lady Devotea and Julia hit it off right away. I left them chatting – about ten minutes after we had met – and I managed to tour the whole exhibition before either of them drew breath.
So, when we heard that Julia was going to be giving a series of talks about tea to various Jane Austen Society chapters in Australia, we knew we had to get there.
And we love Sydney, so that seemed the obvious choice.
Not without incident – the plane was jacked up while we were in it and a tyre changed, and then a passenger seemed to be missing – we got to Sydney on the Friday evening and went out for a meal with Lady D’s Sydney-based cousin Tony and his (vastly) better half Nicole.
We usually stay in Darling Harbour or the City, but this time it was Kings Cross, which is a little… different.
Anyway, Saturday involved an excellent breakfast with good tea, shopping, the excellent talk by Julia which was inexplicably accompanied by Twinning’s teab*g tea (because the organisers just don’t think), a historical walking tour, getting caught in a storm and a bit more tea, and then Saturday was done.
Lady Devotea had seen a newspaper article about tea ceremonies in the Chinese Friendship Garden in Darling Harbour, and we had invited Julia to join us for a basinful of that on Sunday Morning, ahead of a planned Sunday afternoon tea, as described in a previous post.
Having stashed our luggage and borrowed an umbrella, we headed to the venue, and after meeting up with Julia, we managed to find our way in. Some gifts were exchanged, which resulted in Lady D and I having our own beautiful cups for the ceremony.
The Garden is quite spectacular. Koi the size of sharks flash though serene waters. Oriental buildings abound. Lush foliage sprouts from the landscape. And thankfully, none of those Japanese-style bits where some one sticks a rock or two in some gravel or sand and pointlessly rakes wavy lines around it.
Anyway, we found the tea ceremony, which was sort of a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and any other tea ceremony that is based around drinking tiny amounts of tea and keeping quiet, which are exactly not what I want from a tea ‘ceremony’. I want volume of tea and volume of chatter.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, and the tea, which we got to taste, was great. I particularly remember a lovely buttery Taiwanese Oolong.
One can only watch silk-clad ladies dispensing tea for so long, and so we moved on to… the tea shop. In the centre of the garden. this is great, but of course it’s all about great company. Several pots of tea followed as the three of us discussed life, the universe and everything.
Another stroll around the gardens, and we were ready for our next event which was… more tea.
We taxied to T Totaller, in Newtown. Arriving a little early, some second-hand stores and bottle shops were perused, but then it was time for the main event.
We were joined once again by Tony and Nicole, and also by our great friends ‘Fancy A Cuppa Now’ blogger/author Simon Duffin and his lovely wife Anita. They now live south of Sydney and we try to catch up whenever we are in the same general area.
By selecting T Totaller, we had chosen an experience outside of the comfort zones of all concerned. Very much the hipster tea bar, with an industrial chemist decor, this is not the usual tea-and-scones-and-how-about-some-cake venue we prefer.
From the moment we arrived, Paul made us welcome. It’s not every day seven people, most of them highly knowledgeable about tea, all talking at the same time and with much laughter, occupy a tea shop for over two and a half hours.
We also ate ALL the cake. Literally all of it.
T Totaller does not have many black teas, and to be honest, their black teas are the only thing they do not do well, at least to my palate. It’s more than made up for by the way they do everything else. They have many cool and funky offerings, but my favourite was ice-cold, carbonated, jasmine white tea in a flute glass. It was nothing short of spectacular.
Another iced drink that Lady D and several others enjoyed was a vibrant red-orange drink called Negroni, it looked to have the flavours and colours of a Campari and soda, circa 1975.
My needs for volume of tea and volume of chatter were well and truly met, if not exceeded.
And then, it happened.
Emboldened by the fact that Paul knew what he was doing, I ordered a matcha.
Yes, I did. Despite never, ever having enjoyed a cup of any Japanese tea prior to this (ok, once in 2011) , I thought “This might be the time” .
I tried making my own matcha once, and it was horrible. Twice I have tried samples at events in little plastic cups, and they were horrible.
I explained to Paul that he could not lose here. If he made a cup of matcha I enjoyed, he’d be a hero. If I didn’t like it, it was just because I don’t like matcha.
It arrived, and it was green and foamy. I won’t hearken back to my gall bladder troubles..oh wait, I just did.
Anyway, it was a revelation to me.
I sipped it.
It was salty and brackish. It had vegetal tones. For those foolish enough to eat seaweed and claim to like it, it had those sort of overtones. And inexplicably, it had a vague poultry-like thing, like when a chicken soup has so many vegetables in it that the chicken is just a distant hint.
I’ve struggled to define the taste, and then it hit me. Al-baaaa-trossss!
On ‘Monty Python Live at Drury-Lane’, John Cleese comes on and walks among the crowd as a snack vendor, but instead of selling ice-creams, he’s selling seabirds. And my favourite is “Stormy Petrel On a Stick”. If you’ve ever wondered what that must taste like, matcha is it. It’s like biting a seabird, probably around the area the stick goes in.
There were two matcha aficionados at the table: Julia and Anita, and they both pronounced it excellent. So I could happily say to Paul, “it’s not you, it’s me”.
I consoled myself with an excellent white tea with rose petals.
Too soon, the afternoon finished, and with sad farewells we were headed to the airport.
More will come from that wonderful weekend, but Lady D and I are never disappointed by Sydney, will always enjoy a good cup of tea, never tire of exploring places away from home and have never regretted having a small circle of truly great friends.
So, it was very, very memorable.
And now I giggle every time someone mentions matcha.
Stormy Petrel On A Stick, indeed.