Tea for the soul

A cup of tea being poured.

Hong Kong member and tea expert Nana Chan writes a new chapter in the story of the age-old drink and introduces her selection for the House

By Gavin Yeung    Above image by Amanda Kho    Saturday 15 August, 2020   Short read

The leaves resembled dormant chrysalises in earthy tones of green-grey and black, languidly unfurling themselves in the steaming water of the teapot. In another, a bouquet of flowers bloomed in a riot of colour, leaving behind a tincture of the palest pink. Sporting names such as Jasmine Phoenix Pearls and Shanlinxi Milky Oolong, these teas comprise just two of the selection at Soho House Hong Kong, curated by member and tea expert, Nana Chan, to capture the rich tea regions spanning the Asian continent.

A former lawyer, Chan is best known for opening Teakha in 2011, a cafe that quickly became the darling of Hong Kong’s sleepy Tai Ping Shan neighbourhood, just a stone’s throw away from the House. Rather than follow the well-worn path of third-wave coffee, Teakha married the Western tradition of afternoon tea – replete with homemade pastries – with the complexity and rich history of Asian teas. It was inspired, explains Chan, by her Taiwanese family’s tradition of afternoon tea around the table. ‘That was an opportunity for us to get together and talk about the day, and there would always be a cake and different kinds of snacks,’ she says. ‘That is a very fond memory of mine.’

Teakha’s menu, though concise, offered a sampling of tea cultures across Asia. It included bold, cooked teas such as Masala chai, Thai iced tea and Keemun milk tea with red date honey. And also gentler brews, like roselle mint tea and matcha soy latte made with matcha from the centuries-old Kyoto purveyor, Ippodo. On weekends, crowds would flock to Teakha for the promise of a nourishing cup of tea, served alongside its famed green-tea cheesecake. Yet rather than expanding into additional locations, Chan instead opted to launch a sister brand focusing on the provenance of tea. 

Initially an online store, Plantation by Teakha opened a physical teahouse in 2018 to provide a gathering place for a growing contingent of tea enthusiasts, who approached the drink with the same level of zeal as wine enthusiasts show towards grapes – where talk of fermentation and cultivars would not be out of place. ‘It’s a lot about where the tea has actually come from and the stories behind them,’ says Chan. ‘[Plantation by Teakha] is a proper Chinese tea room – you can sit down and have a tea-tasting session.’ Education is a major component of Plantation, emphasises Chan, and conversation with the tea masters is highly encouraged.

Chan’s tea selection for Soho House strikes a happy balance between the approachability of Teakha and the focus of Plantation. The six teas on the menu each cover a popular category, but with the addition of certain elements that are ‘a little bit more unique and not often seen on menus elsewhere’. Much like its host city, Soho House Hong Kong’s eclectic East-meets-West character also figured into Chan’s curation process: she cites the Red Jade with bergamot, which riffs on the classically English Earl Grey tea, but traces its origin to an all-female organic tea farm in Nantou, Taiwan. That seamless bridging of cultures, she says, is something that ‘ties in with the whole spirit of Soho House’.
A cup of tea.
Two slices of cake.

The teas of Soho House Hong Kong

Plantation Breakfast
‘Similar to the standard breakfast tea, our blend is a mix of Taiwanese Red Jade, a Keemun black tea from China, and Indian Assam.’ 
Tasting notes: malty, sweet, full bodied.

Jasmine Phoenix Pearls
‘Jasmine tea is a must-have. “Phoenix” refers to the shape of the tea, which is rolled up into an almond shape. Pearls refer to fung ngan, which is the shape of a Chinese woman’s eyes. It’s quite an unusual style for this tea, as jasmine teas are either loose leaf or rolled up into a pellet shape. It is infused with jasmine flowers, making for a very fragrant, flowery green tea.’ 
Tasting notes: jasmine, bright, delicate.

Camomile Reverie
‘A blend of three different types of flowers, including camomile, Chinese chrysanthemum and globe amaranth, this is one of our most popular teas because it’s very pretty to look at. The other two flowers take away the musky smell of the camomile, making it rounder and more wholesome in general.’ 
Tasting notes: floral, soothing, mellow.

Shanlinxi Milky Oolong
‘A popular high-mountain tea from Shanlinxi, an oolong production area in Taiwan. The name is kind of intriguing, but it actually doesn’t taste that milky – it’s more the creamy texture of milk with a hint of cream fragrance.’
Tasting notes: round, floral, caramel.

Red Jade with Bergamot
‘This tastes and smells like an Earl Grey tea, but we use Red Jade, a black tea from Taiwan. And instead of the usual bergamot essence, this incorporates hand-shredded bergamot strips in the blend.’
Tasting notes: citrus, cinnamon, mint.

Rice Scent Aged Puerh
‘One of the best sellers. Puerh tea is so common in Hong Kong, but it’s very hard to find a good one that’s easy to drink. It’s a smooth and friendly tea with a hint of rice, which people seem to love.’
Tasting notes: rice, woody, earthy.
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