MELBOURNE | For as long as Cheryl Teo can remember, she has been interested in tea. She curiously tried many different teas while she was growing up, and even got her first credit card for the purposes of buying books about tea from Amazon (back in the day when all Amazon did was sell books and CDs). Her professional life took her to the world of engineering but that passion for tea never subsided. Eventually the desire to follow this passion for tea grew too strong and Cheryl decided to take things further. Fast forward to 2016 and Cheryl is a certified tea master who “geeks out on the history, culture, art and science of tea”. Her business, Flag & Spear Tea Hunters specialises in educational workshops, comparative tastings and tea experiences.
The City Lane was invited to the most recent tea experience event “imbue: Dessert Edition” and, being big tea lovers ourselves (we have about 50 different kinds of tea on the shelf at The City Lane HQ and any given point in time) we were super keen to meet Cheryl and experience the event. The imbue events are a collaboration between Flag & Spear and “In The Art of Entertaining“, a catering business set up by Cheryl’s friend Rebekah Hanna. An optometrist by trade, Rebekah has always had a passion for cooking and In The Art of Entertaining is the culmination of this.
Imbue: Dessert Edition was an event where, as the name suggests, rare teas and desserts were matched. We were given a cheese board, three unique desserts, a palate cleanser and a selection of petit fours. The paired teas were sourced from Indonesia, Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, India, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. It was great to hear Cheryl passionately talk about each tea, why it was selected, and how Rebekah and her came up with the dessert pairings for each one. It’s not all talk either – everyone in attendance noticed when trying each pairing that there really was a purpose behind each one. The taste and flavours synced up with what we were told every time. Think bright, sweet, floral aromas for Himalayan grown Nepalese white tea. Marine and seaweed aromas for the Korean green tea grown on a tiny island, and fruit and mineral tones for the dark roasted Oolong tea grown off rocky cliffs in China.
The experimentation was evident from the start, when we were served “Silver Needle” – a white tea from Indonesia that contained flavours of Jasmine, honey and lime. It was served in champagne glasses and had been carbonated. Imagine our surprise when we took our first sip and realised that we were drinking tea, and not champagne!
To start the matching, it was Langres washed-rind cheese, tamari roasted Brazil nuts, cold smoked Croatian pork neck matched with cold Oolong Tea from Taiwan with floral, toasty, milk arrowroot biscuit notes.
Next up was one of the most interesting pairings of the afternoon. A botanical gelee of lemongrass, coriander, ginger, edible ﬂowers matched with a Korean green tea exhibiting notes of wet spinach, fresh cut grass and seaweed. It was fascinating how the tea reduced the intensity of the coriander, while highlighting the other flavours in the savoury dessert.
Next up was a delicious malted panna cotta with mango, apricot, spiced sticky red rice, coconut. This was paired with our favourite tea of the event – a rare Nepalese white tea with treacle, honeysuckle and melon notes. It was super light and delicate, and matched perfectly with the South East Asian flavours of the panna cotta.
To cleanse our palates was this innovative iced fennel and chai granita which used black tea from India. Refreshing with a slight spice hint, the milkiness became more apparent as the ice slowly melted. Very interesting.
The first of the “sweet” desserts was our favourite dessert of the day. A deconstructed black forest cake which used rich dark chocolate, cherries which had been preserved for a few months (they were purchased in season) and hazelnuts. Classic flavours executed perfectly. The cake was matched with a hot oolong tea from China which exhibited notes of chocolate, mahogany, toast, dates. So good.
To finish was this trio of petit fours, each made using a different green tea. Hojicha cheesecake, Genmaicha marshmallow, and Meringue kisses with Matcha ganache. Surprisingly we all agreed that the marshmallow was the best one, with the toasted rice really giving it a lift. The tea match was a Sri Lankan black tea with notes of citrus, malt, cedar.
We were very impressed by our experience at imbue: Dessert Edition. Cheryl’s passion for tea, and desire to pass on this knowledge to everyone in attendance was evident throughout the afternoon and Rebekah’s desserts were amazing. It’s great to experience tea presented in ways that really challenges perceptions – hot, cold, carbonated, frozen. It’s certainly something different than the usual wine pairing. For more information on Flag & Spear, and to find out about future tea events and education sessions, check out the Flag & Spear website.