|‘Bird's nest': The tea longevity device has a pot nestled inside the cushion.
by Hans Hung-Yuan Chen
On the rim of one of Taipei's most cited tourist locations, Yong Kang park, just beyond the busy street there is a tea house that advocates and provides an entirely elevated plane of feel from the bustle of commotion.
This is Tea-Tea, a vegan tea house that is infused with a deeply philosophical identity, continually re-thought and renewed by its owners Evan and Hu Xiao Zhen. The menu boasts of tea sets for different times of the day, with desserts that are both modern and oriental.
Bringing tradition to the modern world, and providing a place that feels like a return to our roots in the community as well as nature – those are the founding philosophies of Tea-Tea. Hu believes that no matter where one hails from, it is always the material closer to nature that can touch the hearts of the person sitting in the environment.
While people drink coffee and black tea nowadays, Hu questions the reduction of the immense value that she believes the art of drinking tea should provide.
According to Hu, some tea have the effect of exposing discomfort, and even illness, in these sense that good tea is enabling the clearance of wasteful material. The art of tea brings to life concepts of alleopathy. A feeling of comfort after drinking tea is restorative to health, too.
Address: No. 9, Xin-yi Road, Sec. 2 Lane 228, Da-an District, Taipei
Hours: 10 am-9 pm, daily. Only tea is served in the morning; lunch and dinner hours are noon to 1:30 pm and 6-8 pm respectively.
Price: 200-500 Taiwan dollar (US$6-16) for tea sets and food dishes.
There is a sense of cuteness in the presentation of tea utensils. In an innovation called the "bird's nest", one sees how traditional woven fabric, art, and teaware can be blended for an energetic device for enjoying tea.
A gray-green-coloured bamboo basket with a filling of bright purple puffing the majority portion of the container can be applied to softly cushion a delicately carved, earthen pot that rests perfectly in the centre of the basket. It is a device that encapsulates the desire for a well-lived life, and hence is called the "tea longevity device". True to its name, the longevity basket is able to keep the tea warm as the pot nests comfortably inside the cushion.
The masters of the tea house can share his or her experience to empower the brewer to share the effects that materials achieve. Aroma is best brought about by porcelain by the first cup poured out of the freshly brewed pot, but by the second cup, it is necessary to use the firewood-baked pot for the best taste, Hu explains. That also depends on the type of tea, however; for some teas, the first cup can come out of the firewood-baked pot because its aroma is easy to waffle.
Combinations of tea are designed to bring out a process that invokes a tea sipper's journey through the canon of tradition, bringing out the essence of sweetness and warmth, as well as freshness and coolness in different orders.
In one tea set, the first cup, using the Yao-zhou cup is supposed to present a cold-fresh feel. The second cup, using porcelain, in order to bring out the sweetness and aroma of the pu'er tea that it carries. The third cup of tea is supposed to bring out the warm feeling, complemented by using the firewood-baked pot.
Rising above the concept of "harm" as a human-centric concept is a focal idea behind Hu's food.
"What about the respect for the survival niches of other animals like insects? She asks. "In fact, they do help humans in the bio chain, and mutual help and coexistence enrich the landscape of biology. What we would normally consider pests actually help give tea good taste. They support the plants, even as they eat the plants."
It is a source of pride, emphasised on the menu, that the tea leaves being used are "bitten by insects".
Yet "organic" is not the word that Hu uses to describe the source of her products. Financial difficulties for smaller-scale farmers, which might prevent them from getting the necessary certification, should not stand in the way of good wholesome food, Hu believes. So she prefers to call the material "friendly".
Every time you drink tea, you can come with an expectation of a certain relationship between people and with nature, Hu says.
This also transitions into a schematic belief that forms the foundation of Tea Tea's vegetarianism.
A light taste harkening to Taiwanese roots is aimed for in the dish consisting of half brown rice, half sticky rice. Camellia tenuifolia tea oil is used to stew the rice. Biocatalysts are also added to the rice.
Accompanying tea sets is a Western dessert that's been infused with an oriental identity. Behold the guava pie, a meltingly delicious piece of sweetness consisting of fresh guava and sugar. Rich, indescribably balsamic creamy texture of the guava pie ignites an insatiable thirst for more of the sweets. — The China Post
Although it takes only a couple of hours to brew a lovely bubbling pot of lurou (braised pork) and another to cook rice, both take a lifetime of experience and several burnt pots to reach the ultimate balance of perfection between meat, sauce and rice.
It is difficult to measure how many people this recipe serves, as the Taiwanese cook a large pot of the pork gravy and may eat it for several meals over the course of a week as long as the mixture is refrigerated at night and simmered before and after being served. Luroufan stands may go through several kilogrammes of lurou gravy, but keep in mind that the average person is usually satisfied with a couple of ladleful's over a bowl of rice.
- Around 300 to 350 grammes of fatty pork belly, skin included
- 1-2 tablespoons of rock candy, also known as "ice sugar" in Chinese
- 150 grammes of soy sauce of your choice
- 150 grammes of water
- 50 grammes of shallots, peeled, finely chopped and ready to be fried
- 1 pinch of pepper or five-spice powder (is replaceable by 1 clove of star anise)
- 1 tablespoon of shaoxing rice wine (optional)
Surprise ingredient: 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (optional)
Perfectly Cooked Rice (Serves 8)
- 4 cups of uncooked white rice (1 cup 190 grammes)
- 4 cups of water
- A rice cooker with an "inside pot"
With your ingredients ready, let the slow-cooked fun begin! Usually it takes longer for the gravy to cook and brown, so we start with preparing the meat; first timers are encouraged to start around 3 hours before the meal begins.
After dicing the peeled shallots – a lot of tears will be shed, but I recommend placing an electric fan nearby – dump them into a saucepan with a rice-bowl full of cooking oil. Pork lard is preferred as it brings out the heavenly aroma of shallots perfectly, but mostly any type of vegetable oil will suffice. Cook the shallots on small heat to prevent burning, and drain them after every piece is a nice, golden brown.
Heat oil in another saucepan before finely dicing the pork into small cubes, and throw in the pork when the oil is bubbling and hot. Sautee the pork until no hint of pink is seen, and pour in the soy sauce, water, sugar and shallots.
Peanut butter is a new-fangled ingredient that adds a certain creaminess to the gravy, and should be added at this stage if the cook feels necessary. The nutty flavour will not be obvious in the final stage of the dish, but just as many people do without peanut butter.
The liquids should cover the pork, add more soy sauce and water at a 1:1 ratio if needed, and let it simmer away for around 90 minutes over low heat.
While the pork is cooking, the uncooked rice should be washed, or at least rinsed a couple of times before cooking. Traditionally, each cup of rice calls for one cup of water, but for chewy grains instead of soggy, we suggest 3.7 cups of water (there is a measuring scale in the rice cooker) for 4 cups of rice; 4.7 for 5 cups of rice and so forth. After the measuring, there is no magic involved, just press the cook button!
The pork should be nicely browned by now. Add the rice wine, give it a few good stirs and let everything simmer for another 30 minutes; make sure the mixture is stirred from time to time to prevent burning.
Wait for the rice cooker to pop and ladle the lurou gravy over your rice – enjoy!