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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Making time to enjoy a cup of tea, according to tradition

Making time to enjoy a cup of tea, according to tradition


In this third and final part of our Tuesday tea-time series, we enjoy a taster of some of the capital’s finest locations for enjoying a high-quality brew

By calming the mind, the actions of the tea ceremony bring awareness to one’s inner self.

TEA TIMES

Java Tea Room: 8am – 6pm
Monument Books, 53 Norodom Boulevard
High Tea at Hotel InterContinental: Mon-Fri, 2-5pm.
High Tea at Raffles Le Royal Hotel: Mon-Fri 3-5:30pm.

With no fewer than 15 tea varieties from a handful of countries, Java’s tearoom at Monument Books is a great place to start.
To aficionados, taking tea is a tranquil time for reflection. Almost hidden away at the back of the store, Java’s tearoom hits the spot in that respect.

Owner Dana Langlois explains how she became smitten with renowned Parisian teahouse Mariage Freres and tried to re-create a similar ambience in Phnom Penh. “I wanted to work around the idea of a traditional teahouse, and here among the books and lectures at Monument you have this intellectually stimulating space, which I think complements tea culture very well,” Langlois says.

Served in traditional porcelain insulated teapots and with hundreds of books to peruse, this is no place for a quick hit-and-run cuppa. From among the black, green, white, red and aromatic brews available, try the excellent 1837 White Tea with its fruity aftertaste of wild berries and anise. Langlois will be introducing high tea in a few months’ time.

If you can’t wait that long, try the unbeatable value-for-money high tea at the InterContinental Hotel. For US$10 net you can choose from eight varieties served with a mouth-watering mix of scones, croissants, chicken satays, focaccia sandwiches, greens, croquet en bouche, chocolate mousse and fruit cakes. The premium TWG Tea brand brewed with loose leaves won’t disappoint.

In contemporary times, the term “high tea” has actually become a misnomer. Its origin goes back to the Industrial Revolution. Working-class families would gather at home after a hard day’s labour and the table would be set with meats, bread, butter, pickles, cheese and tea. Because it was eaten on a high dining table, it was called high tea. None of today’s delicate scones, pastries and finger sandwiches would be served, though. These actually belong to afternoon tea, also called low tea, as it is usually taken in a sitting room at low tables.

In recent years, high tea has become a term for an elaborate afternoon or low tea, possibly because it sounds more elitist. However, this is predominantly American usage, especially in high-end hotels, and largely unrecognised in Britain.

To add to the confusion, the term “tea” is also used for “dinner” in parts of Scotland, Wales and the English Midlands, as well as much of the north of England.

Another place to enjoy high tea – in the sense of afternoon or low tea – is the Raffles Hotel Le Royal. You get served a similar set of goodies to eat, but the tea itself is limited to a rather plain, Dilmah-branded black tea. At $15, the price is a bit steep – but then the historical setting of Le Royal is unique.

There are other timeless traditions associated with tea. The Japanese tea ceremony, sado or “the way of tea”, is a much older one. It’s a highly ritualised way of serving and drinking tea pervaded with the influence of Zen Buddhism.

Drinking tea was introduced to Japan from China as early as the ninth century, but sado became perfected in the 16th century by historical figure Sen no Rikyu. Following the philosophy that each meeting should be treasured for it can never be reproduced, his teachings not only perfected the way of tea, but also other forms in Japanese fine and applied arts, architecture and gardens.

The four main principles set forward – harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity – are still central to sado.

At the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Centre (CJCC), Japanese tea ceremonies are sometimes scheduled during special events, usually performed by a tea master who flies specially over from Japan. According to Prum Sisaphantha, course manager of the exchange programme at the CJCC, their chashitsu or tearoom is currently being repaired from termite damage. However, tea ceremonies are scheduled to resume from next February.

Done properly, a sado can last up to four hours, depending on the type of ceremony, number of guests, and the kinds of meal and tea served. Nowadays the ceremony is mostly a secular and social pastime, but the strong Zen influence is still very visible. The elaborate and highly stylised process of making tea, with all its rules and formalities, is the outcome of the inner feeling of reverence towards beauty and an expression of the participant’s consciousness of the sublime.

By calming the mind, the actions of the tea ceremony bring awareness to one’s inner self.

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