Meet the Tea Master

I’ve found a new appreciation for Chinese tea after discovering a tea house on Military Road in Neutral Bay. My friends and I decided to go for a short stroll along this main street after a filling meal at Japaz. We spotted the Tea House from across the road, standing out like a beacon as it was the only shop still lit up at 8pm on a Saturday night.

With a beautiful window display of Chinese tea sets, tea cannisters and tea boxes, the shop drew us like a magnet. We decided to come in for what was intended to be a quick browse but the owner, dressed in a traditional Chinese outfit, asked us if we had time to sit down for a cuppa.

And that’s where the fun began. You wouldn’t think there’d be any fun going to a tea house but one of my favourite movies of all time is “Kung Fu Hustle”. The shop reminded me so much of the movie, mainly because the background music sounded exactly like the traditional Chinese music performed by the Chinese harpists/kung fu masters in the movie. While Master Raymond don’t look anything like Bruce Lee, he looked the part (to me, anyway!), looking very unassuming in his light brown Chinese tunic. I imagine him to be like Clark Kent – taking of his presciption glasses and, voila! Ninja!

Looking around, surrounded by beautiful wooden oriental furniture, tea sets with Chinese inscriptions, silver tea cannisters, horses made of jade, three-legged toads and all things Feng Shui, I felt there must be a backdoor somewhere and that the shop is really a portal to 18th Century China or something. But of course that’s just my imagination running wild.

Master Raymond, as I called our host and ‘tea master’, served us our first cup of tea – a white tea –  and began to talk about the differences between the Chinese tea that he serves and herbal tea. We were all ears – like kung fu cadets listening to Si Fu (master). My friend Cam is an avid tea drinker and was firing questions like she was about to take a tea exam:“What’s the difference between Oolong Tea and the other tea? What is the best temperature? I drink Oolong tea at night, is that good?”

Master Raymond took all our questions in his stride and answered them dutifully. I am sure he would have heard variations to the same questions but he indulged us, eager to pass down his knowledge of enjoying “quality” tea.

“Drinking tea is not just drinking tea. It’s a lifestyle,” he said.

I, on the other hand, just came from Jamaica and had some interesting questions to ask. Though let me preface this by saying they are mere questions and not something I would act upon. These were questions I asked after he gave us white tea to drink, then red tea, and then finally, black tea, illustrating the differences between the taste of these teas and the difference between the colour of the tea leaves and how they are processed.

I asked, “Master Raymond, can you … smoke this tea?”

Laughter. I don’t actually recall him giving an answer although one of the tea drinkers said that he’s sure it’s possible although what effect it would have is something else.

I also asked, “Master Raymond, can you … mix vodka with this tea?”

Once again, laughter. Although Master Raymond took this question seriously and had a frown on his face, probably going through the directory of tea he knows to get me an answer.

Again, his guest, who wasn’t part of our party, but is a regular at his tea shop, theorised that the white peony tea, iced and cold, will go well with vodka.

9.30pm and it was closing time. Our party definitely learnt more about good quality tea and I thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary green tea cookies that came with our tea. The plan now is to save up to buy what Sue called the Rolls Royce of tea, raw puerh tea of a certain vintage year. I can’t remember the details as, believe it or not, you can get drunk on tea.

“So, Master Raymond, all these tea give you “long life”, is there a tea I can buy that will make me rich? Like a ‘wealth’ tea?”

He laughed, and answered. “See, this here?”, he said, pointing to the surroundings. “Enjoying cups of tea with your friends and being happy. That’s wealth. So yes, there is [such a thing] as wealth tea, too.”

My Tea House
3-5 133 Military Road
Neutral Bay

Michelle Baltazar is the author of a new travel book called “Love, Manila: 10 Days, 10 Discoveries”. You can order the book here.