The blessings of tea

Tea has romantically ….or grotesquely …been called Bodhidharma’s eyelids. The description arrived from the legend of the fifth century Buddhist monk who fell asleep during seven years of mediation and was so ashamed when he awoke that he cut off his eyelids and where they fell, the first tea plants grew.

Old Bodhi would be revolving in his grave in light of today’s diminishing appreciation of teas given his eyelid sacrifice.

The Australian adage: ‘a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down’ was based on sound reasoning. It simply doesn’t work with coffee. Finding a ‘nice cup of tea’ is nigh on impossible in a world of black T-shirted would-be baristas who think tea can be produced from a vintage teabag bobbing lifelessly in a battered stainless steel tea pot.

But I have reason to believe there is hope on the bone china horizon. Having dined with Merrill J. Fernando and his son Dilhan of ‘do try it’ Dilmah tea fame this week, the joys of single origin 100 per cent Ceylon teas and how to prepare them were central to the conversation. Here is a family single-mindedly trying to educate a world to the subtleties of more than the supermarket-prescribed three grades of tea. Peter Kurivata, chef at Sydney’s Flying Fish restaurant conceived and prepared dishes like pan roasted ocean trout with fennel, spanner crab and Maharajah Reserve Assam pearls to match some pretty complex flavoured teas. One of those was Yata Watte found 1000 feet above sea level, which was described as robust and in the style of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, and loose leaf – whole leaf.

In Melbourne, top shelf tea providores, Somage Fine Foods, recently held a food and tea soiree at Ben Cooper’s St Ali restaurant and is repeating the exercise at Manu Feildel’s L’Etoile in Sydney this Sunday. The menu there will incorporate tea to best match tasting cups of Bodhidharma’s eyelids… Orange pekoe to be precise. No, that’s NOT a herbal tea barista bozo. Orange, as in the House of Orange…Dutch East Indian Company heritage …dear me!

Manu, co-star of next year’s My Kitchen’s Rules television show will tear himself away from filming to prepare tartare of green tea curd ocean trout served in a dill coated cucumber cup and lightly tea smoked scallop boudin with a crustacean bisque. Adding the sweet component to the menu will be some riotous, tea influenced desserts by patisserie enfant terrible, Adriano Zumbo. With all those will come a whole tea cupping process and the serving of Somage’s Chamellia range of single estate organic teas including a ‘grand cru’ first grade Orange pekoe and reserve green tea.

Tea cupping shouldn’t be confused with the Gwyneth Paltrow-endorsed alternate medicine cupping procedure that leaves you with welts that appear as if you’ve gone several rounds with a giant octopus. Although it may seem like a parlour game for the uninitiated, tea cupping is a sensory procedure for professional tasting, evaluation and comparison of teas. One of Bodhidharma’s prophetic sayings was: “only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher’s help”. And that is pretty obvious in the hot beverage service in this country. We need more like Dilmah’s didactic Fernando family and the enterprising boys at Somage so a bloke can get a decent cuppa.

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