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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Tea Appreciation Master Class @ Teanamu

There have been very few occasions when I felt that I had stumbled upon something truly special – Teanamu’s Tea Appreciation Master Class run by the delightful Pei Wang was certainly one of these rare moments.

The few hours I spent at his beautiful home in Notting Hill were an introduction to a fascinating world I admit knowing little about. I felt humbled by the experience but at the same time, very eager to learn more.

Pei has a gracious and calm serenity about him and is also confident and knowledgeable in his area of expertise. Pei explained many interesting facts and anecdotes about his expeditions to China to find the best possible teas, the effects of oxidation on the tea leaves, and also about the ten artisan teas he was about to brew.

The plant from which tea is made is called “Camellia sinensis”, a native of mainland Southern China and Southeast Asia. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffeine, but luckily (and unlike coffee), the leaves also contain another chemical called “theophylline” which helps us to appreciate the benefits of caffeine by relaxing the muscles while counterbalancing its unpleasant side effects.

So if all Chinese teas come from one single plant, why are there so many different types of tea? From green to white, yellow, oolong and black teas, the difference between them is solely dependent on the levels of oxidation of the leaves. Green teas are un-oxidised, while white teas are very slightly oxidised, with black teas being fully oxidised.

Pei also explained that the quality of the water used will play a key factor in the taste, appearance and aroma of tea – hard water (high levels of calcium), acidic or alkaline waters (PH below/above 7.0) and water containing excessive amounts of chlorine will alter the natural properties of the brewed tea. Pei strongly recommends filtered or pure bottled water.

Another interesting fact was the importance of water temperature in brewing – the higher the water temperature, the more bitter and astringent the tea taste becomes because amino acids, the flavour element dissolves at 60 ˚C (140 ˚F). Tannin, causing astringency, dissolves at 80 ˚C (176 ˚F).

The more delicate types of tea, the un-oxidised and very lightly oxidised green, white and yellow teas, are brewed at low temperatures in porcelain tea pots. The more heavily oxidised teas, black and red varieties, are normally brewed at higher temperatures and served from clay pots which help to retain the heat.

All these delightful snippets of “tea facts” were given to us between tastings of the ten artisan teas that Pei served us which showcased the spectrum of un-oxidised to fully oxidised teas on offer. All teas can be purchased from Pei’s website, and are priced around £4.50 to £5.50 for 30-40gr.

Of note was the very lightly oxidised “Silver Needle”, the most expensive white tea variety and also the most prized as only top buds are used to produce the tea. It tasted delicate and slightly sweet.

The “Silk Oolong” was also a big hit for me – a partially oxidised tea, it had a slightly darker colour and tasted deliciously creamy like buttered popcorn and caramel.

We tried the “Big Snow Mountain Pu Erh 2010 vintage” tea, harvested from 2,000 year old tea trees, this fermented, post-oxidised tea was outstanding. Like a fine Burgundy, Pu Erh tea is aged in a controlled environment for months or even years which helps it to darken in colour and as it slowly matures, it acquires a more intense flavour.

The fully oxidised black tea “Lychee Black” was also sensational – I never thought that a natural tea plant could taste so fruity and sweet. It had a heady scent of tropical fruits and a delicate vanilla hint to the flavour.

Pei suggests this tea to be drunk with dessert, and indeed the “Lychee Black” was the perfect accompaniment to the delightful yuzu macaroons and green tea madeleines that Pei baked for our tasting on that same morning.

I was truly impressed by his macaroons, they were perfect – and the use of “yuzu”, an expensive and very hard to find Japanese lime variety, showed a great sophistication of palate and cooking skills. Pei also provides tea cookery classes at £60 for which I am very tempted to enrol.

The green tea madeleines were also fantastic – wonderfully light and fluffy, they had a delicious hint of vanilla and a lovely nuttiness from the topping of black sesame seeds.

Pei’s tea appreciation class is priced at £35, and lasts for about 3 hours. He also runs a similar class at Bea’s of Bloomsbury on selected Wednesday evenings, and other workshops like “Tea and Meditation” at Holland Park and at Teanamu.

Pei will be hosting a Summer Open House at Teanamu on 3rd July from 12-4pm, when you can experience a free demonstration of traditional tea brewing and sample some of this Spring's fresh green and Pu Erh teas.

After many pots of delicious teas, quite a few macaroons, and one of the most interesting mornings I have had for a very long time, I reluctantly had to leave for another appointment. I left feeling completely blissful having partaken in Pei’s delightful master class.

Teanamu @ The Coach House, 14a St Luke’s Road, London, W11 1DP.


  1. This sounds wonderful - i particularly like the sound of the oolong, but then I am a bit of sucker for oolong tea, along with a good light jasmine or nuttily fragrant Genmeicha, it's my favourite tea. It sounds like the class was very informative as well as tasty. And those macarons look delicious.

  2. I love your description of Pei's "gracious and calm serenity"; that's a perfect assesment!

    I felt very fortunate too to meet Pei about a year ago this month, I think, following his 2009 trip to China. (I posted about it on my blog).

    I have attended one of his cookery workshops and can thoroughly recommend them. They are not as hands on as Reiko's classes but one learns a great deal, can smell and touch and understand the ingredients and, of course, sit down and enjoy the dishes. Some photos can be found in this post, if you want to see: http://www.kaveyeats.com/2009/11/tea-for-friends.html

  3. Talking about caffeine, I was at the Teasmiths (Spitalfields) a couple of weeks' back and I was told that white tea has more caffeine than black tea. To think that all along I thought it was otherwise.

  4. Pei made those macarons?? WOW!

    Fascinating read, Luiz - I am such a tea dunce. I mean, I love the stuff but am so unaware of the intricacies - so thank you :)

  5. Such an interesting morning - I learned so much about tea.

  6. @ The Grubworm - wow you sound like a real tea expert, you would enjoy an afternoon at Teanamu and his open house days are fantastic to introduce you to the range of his teas.

    @ Kavey - hey hun, thank YOU for introducing me to Pei, I felt so good after spending those lovely few hours with him learning about teas, and his wonderful macaroons.

    @ London Chow - I was actually quite surprised to learn that green tea had any caffeine, not one to drink before going to bed I guess.

    @ Meemalee - the macaroons were sensational, better than Laduree's! Can't wait to learn how to make them, will drop you a line when I confirm a date with him.

    @ Greedy Diva - it was lovely to spend that morning with you and the Wine Sleuth at Teanamu, we learnt a great deal, and your write-up is excellent.

  7. I am really touched by your kind words and glad that I have created a special morning for you.
    And thank you to everyone for the compliments, do pop by to drink tea one day! :-)

  8. Wow, I'm pretty tempted by the cookery class too.

    I tried to tea-smoke some trout recently and it was terrible. I'm sure I did something very fundamentally wrong like smoke it for way too long, but it tasted of burnt rubber - I think I need a lesson!

    Emma @ Old Hat Club

  9. Until I went to Sri Lanka I had no idea how seriously some people take their tea - it is really quite similar to wine appreciation once you get into it and you can literally have tea sommeliers

  10. this sounds totally brilliant! I want to come here

  11. Tea cookery class sounds awesome - let me know if you're going, I want to come!

    And those macaroons and madeleines look gorgeous =)

  12. @ Pei - I am the one who should be thanking you! I had one of the most memorable mornings I can remember, and learnt so much too. Many thanks.

    @ Emma - I know, I tried to smoke a duck egg with earl grey tea once, it was a nightmare! The macaroons alone is enough excuse for me to take up his cookery classes. Maybe we should go together!

    @ Gourmet Chick - interesting Cara, but that makes sense from a country that produces so much tea! I really recommend Pei, his palate and sense of taste is incredibly refined and you can learn so much from him in one morning.

    @ Love Leluu - hi Uyen, maybe we should all go back soon.

    @ Jen - I will Jen, thanks for your comment!

    @ Photo Poland - very interesting, and I learnt a great deal too. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Have you been to Postcard Teas, I think it's a great shop?


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