Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pouchong Oolong

In my continuing quest for oolong tea tastings, I found myself at a rather unlikely venue: the Russian Tea Time. This venerable Old World restaurant offers an afternoon tea, and a quick perusal of its website revealed pouchong oolong listed at the top of its tea menu. My fate was quickly decided.

So on a gloriously balmy afternoon, my companions and I found ourselves entering the restaurant's portals which were flanked by several Russian dolls with ballooning dresses and countenances of frozen mirth.

All three of us chose the full afternoon tea service, each with our own tea selection in its own teapot. Mine, of course, was the long-awaited pouchong oolong; pouchong is the least oxidized of all oolongs, probably more so than the Jade Oolong that I have had recently. It arrived already brewed, with the leaves unencumbered by an infuser in the attractive porcelain teapot. The lack of an infuser -often a boon because the leaves could then fully attain their length- in this case, made it difficult to not overbrew the tea. An additional empty teapot into which the extra liquor could be decanted when the tea finished brewing was the solution. This extra liquor awaited me as I sipped leisurely from my cup.

The leaves slightly unfurled with the first infusion and had a fruity taste. The subtler elements of this fruitiness flowered beautifully with subsequent infusions. As I sipped from the china cup, I was continually deluded into thinking that I was imbibing a green tea. However, the ineffable roastiness of oolongs was present here and disabused me of my delusion.

The sweets and savories were arrayed impressively on two 3-tiered trays. The standouts were not too large raisin scones; moist and flaky, they were delightful with creamed butter.

Mini eclairs with rich custard cream were likewise delectable.

As I ate myself to a point beyond satiety; sampling sundry shortbreads, a rugelach that left me cold, middling finger sandwiches with a surfeit of cream cheese, I wondered why I was doing this. Wouldn't my experience be a better one with a few well-chosen pastries to accompany my tea, enabling me to more easily savor the oolong as well as the food?

Should I eschew the full tea service the next time we go out in search of tea experiences and instead opt for a pot of tea with perhaps one or two pastries?

But then the Peninsula Hotel does reputedly serve a mean afternoon tea service...

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