DIY with TEA

By
Casey Warrener
Added
22 October, 2015

We take a look inside Australia’s 'first concept tea store’, and delve into the complexities of this traditional drink in contemporary use.


Tea is a drink loaded with history and ritual. You can choose a cup to calm you down, to pick you up, to chat over with a mate, to dunk your bikkies, to serve with dessert, and to aid a variety of ails. You can even use a strong brew to add flavour to recipes (but we’ll get to that soon). And now, with the launch of Royal Elixir in Melbourne’s Prahran, that list is longer still.

The first ‘concept tea store’ in Australia, this pared-back outlet specialises in Sri Lankan teas. Delivering smartly packaged leaves to Melburnians since 1994, the small team overseeing what was previously ‘Impra Tea’ in Prahran decided it was time for a fresh take. Enter the custom tea experience, where every element of the final product – from the size, grade and base, to the fruits, florals and spices – is up to you.


We wouldn’t blame you if you found the idea of DIY blends daunting. How do you know you won’t end up with a big ol’ mess in your mug?! Well never fear, because there are experts onsite to guide you. If you’re going a bit crazy with your flavours, they’ll let you know – and stop you in your tracks (unless you’re adamant you need to try the concoction you’ve dreamed up, in which case, good luck). Ask nicely, and they’ll even let you taste your creation before taking it away.

So how does it work? You start by choosing your preferred amount (small, medium, large), base (green, grey, black), and leaf size (chunky coils or gunpowder fine). You then hit the flavour station, where there are three sections to explore. Lemongrass, freeze-dried strawberries, spearmint, liquorice root, jasmine flowers, blackberry leaves and rose petals are just a few of the paths you could go down. It's important to note that these are all natural ingredients; there are no science experiments here. Leave that to the Starbucks of the world.


To give you a sense of the potential, your tea master could take a base of earl grey (a Royal Elixir speciality), add orange peel for those zesty notes, rose petals for a little oh la la, and blue cornflowers for a ladylike twist. Or perhaps you’d like your blend hotted-up, in which case cardamom, ginger root, and cinnamon will add spice to your black or green tea. These are tried and true combinations, but don’t feel you need to go with what’s known. Be bold in your selections, and at best you’ll have a tea to trademark, at worst a talking point.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, maybe you want to skip the tea blending trend altogether. In which case Royal Elixir offers a range of pre-packed leaves. This is top quality stuff, and the straight-up varieties are nothing to be sniffed at. The British brought tea to Sri Lanka in the 19th century and Ceylon is its most recognised variety. But with seven different regions producing a number of species, there’s plenty you probably haven’t tried. For specific regional styles that are harvested ‘in season’, prices will fluctuate. This is where tea shares its similarities with wine; the quality of the yield, the origin, and the tea-makers’ input all influence demand. I asked the passionate gang behind Royal Elixir about the most elusive tea in trade, and they informed me of a white variety known as ‘Golden Tips’. From the southern province of Sri Lanka, this opulent tea is produced by plucking the buds right before they open. At around $100 for 100 grams, this is not an everyday option. But you can see that the trickier the labour, the greater the cost.


Whether you prefer fragrant blends or no-nonsense quality, there are a few ‘good to knows’ about prep:

1. Black tea is to be steeped in 100°C water (generally); green in 85°C
2. Freshly boiled water, always. (Forget reheating what’s sitting in the kettle.)

You may also want to try food matching. As we’ve seen, the humble cuppa involves an array of flavours and aromas, which means finding the right balance in your accompanying snacks. That is if you’re serious about tea, and there are many people who are. Vue de Monde has a dedicated ‘tea sommelier’, and a list that includes a single cup for 1000 bucks. Yikes. Naturally, Vue also has a tea degustation. But unless your wallet is weighing you down, perhaps you want to think about creating your own.


When it comes to tea time treats, it’s not all about what works best alongside your blend either – you can whip up something with tea in the mix. Royal Elixir managed to surprise us with few beauties, including brioche cups with thyme tea-infused pulled pork, ricotta cakes with lemon balm tea-cured trout, and Lotus Divine tea brownies so velvety and delicious that we just had to share. At Cooked, we have a recipe or two of our own, which you can browse in the collection below.

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