Big Brew is Little Bondi
The backroom of a small tobacconist is probably the last place you’d look for a high-end specialist shop, but this is precisely where Joelie Zhou decided to open a traditional Chinese teahouse selling some of the priciest leaves money can buy. Welcome to the Taishan Tea Club.
Located out the back of a convenience store on a humble strip mall in Bondi Junction, just beyond the usual rows of refrigerated soft drinks and snacks, visitors will discover a decorative wooden archway drawing them into an altogether different space. As you pass through, there is a perceptible change in the ambiance: the lighting softens, the noise of Oxford street fades behind you, and a long wooden table beckons. Here you can sample a range of Chinese tea served in the traditional manner, as Zhou plays the guzheng, a classical Chinese instrument.
For this is no ordinary tea shop. It’s more like a tea museum, filled with rare and collectible items, where you can easily while away the better part of an hour sipping fine Chinese tea and learning about the culture that surrounds it.
If you are a tea novice, they say the best way to learn is by doing, and in this case that means taking a seat at the long tea table and letting Zhou brew you something off the menu. The handwritten English and Chinese menu list about 15 teas across two categories, regular ($10 a pot) and premium ($15 a pot). They have names like Golden Buddha and White Peony, and Zhou will happily guide you through the seasonally-changing selection of white, green, black and oolong teas.
Chinese tea is brewed in small pots, with the leaves steeped for just a few seconds before the tea is poured out into even smaller cups. Since the tea leaves are dried in the sun and open air, the first pot of tea is considered a washing of the leaves, and the liquid is discarded rather than consumed. After that first rinse, a pot of tea leaves may be refilled 20 or 30 times, the flavours changing and deepening with each round.
If you’re feeling flush, you can invest in the shop’s most precious brew: an aged pu-erh tea brick priced at $8,888.
IMAGE CREDIT: Daniel Boud