It’s a scorching hot afternoon. You see the sign for XU teahouse & restaurant, its cool and calming facade beckons you in for their afternoon tea. The moment you step in, you’re hit with soft, mellow jazz music and as soon as you sit down, the propellers of ceiling fans above your head whirling away in the background hold you in a contemplative trance. Downstairs is your typical vintage train carriage décor, upstairs the uncanny resemblance of a traditional Taipei teahouse. You know you’re in for the real deal when the setting is so spot on. Yet little did you know, it will be as much of an aromatic journey as it is a time-out for some philosophical contemplation.
First up, you are given a palate cleanser of a delicate cold brew of orange and strawberry which resembles your typical ice tea. Now, you can either savour it or use the heat as an excuse to just, well, down it. From non-oxidised to fully oxidised tea, their extensive list showcases some of the best authentic teas. The night scented Jasmine was selected as a personal preference to accompany the savoury course of the afternoon tea, but before the tasting begins, the tea preparation is essential. A pot of hot water is kept hot over a flame and is first used to heat the tea set, consisting of the teapot, teapot tray, teacups and the decanter, by pouring the water all over the appliances. Now, at this point, you might think it’s a rinsing process, though, in fact, it is all to do with the philosophy of effective brewing as this ensures that the tea is being brewed from the inside out. Rest assured, a server will be there to advise you on the best brewing time as each type of tea has varied brewing times. For the Jasmine tea, a 20-second difference is required between each brew starting at 1minute 20seconds. Upon the timer mark, the tea is to be poured into the decanter to prevent further brewing. This Jasmine tea was the perfect accompaniment for the savoury foods, and the delicate white lily coupled with a hint of honeysuckle was soothing and did not at all overpower the intense flavours of the dim sums. Char sui girolles puffs gave a meaty oomph despite being entirely vegetarian; the sweet potato taro dumplings were a beautiful marriage of sweet and salty, and finally, the steamed egg with roasted turnip and chive oil could have easily been the lightest, fluffiest thing, melting instantly as it comes into contact with the palate.
Next up was the second tea, and it was only fitting to go with the Gaba Oolong, a stronger brew that would cut through the array of sweet plates that’s to come. The smooth texture of the tea with baked yam under-notes betrayed traces of sour plum and other stone fruits. The plates of desserts were served in a particular order, ranking from the least sweet to the sweetest. To begin, steamed red bean buns subtly bridge the transition from savoury to sweet. This is then swiftly followed by fried peanut mochi, a rich chewy dough ball coated with decadent peanut sugar. The next may seem like your ordinary sponge, but the Hei Tang Cake, made from dark sugar, may just be the springiest cake you have ever come across and also surprisingly, not at all sickly sweet. Of course, there was a Taiwanese pineapple cake – a classic dessert. Next is a mellow set almond milk with a bitter black sesame centre, and before you know it, all this has ended with a bang from the burst of sugary sweetness from the hawthorn berry jelly.
And as you awake from this almost dream-like state of serenity that had you enveloped in the past hour, you snap back to reality and realise that the experience has now come to an end. But no fear, for there is always the private Mahjong room to try your hand at…