In the second instalment of our Tuesday teatime series, we explore Phnom Penh’s tea emporiums that stock everything from Fujian Kwai flower blends to rare Chinese teas
Five star hotels are still serving very cheap tea at a very high price.
Specialised tea shops importing and selling fine, premium teas have finally descended upon Phnom Penh.
China Brand Tea and TWG Tea both opened shop in Cambodia over the last few months. The former specialises in a large number of high-quality Chinese tea varieties, and the latter carries teas from different parts of the world under the Singaporean TWG brand.
Both places are little gems, where you can sample tea in tranquillity before deciding which one to buy.
That decision is harder than it seems. Entering the China Brand Tea shop is like passing through a portal into another world. Here the qualities of taste, style and passion reign.
The impressive variety of Chinese teas on display means a lot of browsing, but the peaceful music and the hospitality of young owner Huot Vong Botra make you want to stay.
Knowledge is the key
If you don’t know how to read Chinese characters on the tea packs, let Botra dazzle you with his in-depth knowledge. The Chinese Khmer had lived in Guangdong for 10 years and became so impassioned with tea he stayed a further three years to study it.
“I learned everything about tea – the different grades and varieties, how to keep it, how to brew it and so on,” he says.
In his shop you can find black, green, white and Oolong teas, and he also keeps a stock of fresh un-dried teas at negative 18C. Botra’s enthusiasm is contagious as he explains how the taste of black tea depends on the year and season it is harvested, and how it can still evolve over time.
“Like red wine,” he says, showing a limited edition of Pu-Erh tea from Yunnan.
Botra also teaches his customers the correct way to brew the leaves and warns temperature and timing make all the difference.
“For green, jasmine and flower tea it should be about 85-90 degrees Celsius, whereas Oolong tea needs boiling water,” the connoisseur explains. “When adding the water to the tea for the first time, you keep it for only 40 to 45 seconds.”
Then there are combinations such as mixing fresh Pu-Ehr leaves with leaves that have aged.
If pots are more your cup of tea, Botra’s shop has an array of tea sets. Depending on the material and the master who made it, prices vary up to US$420 for a clay teapot from Zisha in China.
Changing local culture
TRACKING DOWN TEA
China Brand Tea 735 Monivong Blvd (near Mao Tse-tung Boulevard). Open daily 6:30am – 9pm. 012 699 399
TWG Tea No 1 St154, Sisowath Quay (at Amanjaya hotel lobby). Open daily 8am – 8pm. 012 244 440
The TWG tea shop inside the Amanjaya hotel lobby is smaller than China Brand Tea, but its wares make you think yourself in a hidden Aladdin treasure cove. Ask for Hong Bunty, the managing director, and you’ll soon find it hard to leave.
Bunty will tell you everything about his 30 teas from countries including China, India, Japan and Ceylon. From a Fujian Kwai Flower blend to Japanese Sencha to Moroccan Mint, his premium teas are available in loose leaves or hand-sewn cotton tea bags.
Unlike the regular brands, Bunty Hong sells his TWG teas wholesale only to high end cafes and hotels. His clients, he says, are mostly expats and “more mature locals who appreciate quality”.
“At the moment a lot of cafes, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels are still serving very cheap tea at a very high price. They don’t really respect the quality,” he says.
“We have a bad culture here of serving free tea that comes from a handful of leaves thrown into one big jug of water and brewed all day – that’s not very good for your health.”
Trained in Singapore, Bunty knows exactly how to brew the perfect cup – with love and at the right temperature. Rich in taste and colourful in design – with names such as Geisha Blossom and Red of Africa – the packages make for great gifts. To ensure your favourite brew is served with justice, traditional porcelain insulated teapots and elegant matching teacups are also for sale.
The next and last part of this three-part tea series looks at the best places to enjoy a great cup of premium tea.