The Royal Tea House

A taste of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics percolates in a cup of tea.

The Long Run pu-erh tea variety is the official Olympics tea, an apt choice for beverage considering the host China's tea making tradition. The Royal Tea House of Century Park Hotel serves the Long Run pu-erh tea as well as the rock tea at its lower lobby outlet. The teas are sourced from the tea farms of Yunnan and Wuyi Shan in China.

Here are seven reasons why we picked the Royal Tea House as our Editor's Pick of the Week:

1) Pu-erh Tea. Named after the Pu-erh County near Simao in Yunnan, the pu-erh can be aged for many years or consumed after production, as is tradition. It is graded according to how many white tea buds are present in the tea: the more buds, the better tasting. I can attest to this.

The grades are named after the four seasons–winter is the finest kind and autumn the more common. One of pu-erh's health benefits is to help reduce cholesterol, a perfect foil after a heavy meal. Unlike ordinary green tea, the pu-erh has a more refined taste and doesn't leave a grassy mouth feel.

To sample the teas, order individual servings at the Royal Tea House, which are brewed from a tea pot with 7 grams of tea leaves. You can also buy a package of tea from their collection and have it brewed on site. A personalized brewing charge of Php120 per person is added to the price of the tea. The limited edition Beijing Olympics pu-erh teas are available here in the form of compacted tea or tea cakes. It can be purchased as sheng (raw/green) or shou (ripened/cooked).

Royal Tea House

This tea pot is so small that you can cup it in your hands easily.

2) Purple Clay Teapots and Tea Cups. The pu-erh is brewed in a special teapot (small enough to fit the palm of the hand) made of purple clay. The clay, called zisha, is found only in the town of Yixing (read as ee-shing) in Jiangsu, China. The tea is served on tiny matching purple clay cups. The wares are unglazed which gives it an earthier feel. The tea lady at Royal Tea House says the purple clay teapots and cups easily absorb anything that it holds, so they wash it only with salt and lukewarm water, never with soap.

The beauty of drinking from smaller tea cups is I can sip the tea for a few moments, savoring it in the mouth before drinking them in a few gulps. Imagine consuming tiny sandwiches: it's a more concentrated experience.

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3) Rock Tea. Another kind of tea offered at Royal Tea House is the Wuyi Rock Tea, which is picked from tea plants growing in the Wuyishan Mountain. The rock teas probably take its name from the environment from which it is grown: in rocky outcrops and mountain cliffs.

We tried the Da Hong Pao (Php830/50g), the most popular variety of rock tea, served on delicate ceramic cups. I was surprised to detect a subtle sweetness as I sipped it. As if drinking wine, my taste memories reminded me of the most fleeting essence of suman and coconuts in the flavor and aroma of this tea. Without the oiliness, of course. Da Hong Pao is more fragrant than the pu-erh. And I sit there, transported and transformed the way it usually is when one has tasted something good for the first time.

Other rock teas to try: Rou Gui (Php300/50g), Shui Xia (Php230/50g), Lao Chung Shui Xian (Php 520/125g), and Chen Nian Yan Cha (Php260/50g), the most interesting of the lot as it is said to be the favorite of China's scholars and artists.

4) Tea Ceremony. If you have the time, sit by the tea bar–a low wooden table adorned with various teapots and trays–and request for a tea ceremony when you have your tea brewed. Royal Tea House's lead tea lady, Tin Naquerra, was trained in the art of tea making in the Fujian province. Her movements are slow and graceful as qi gong and delicate as the tea cups.

1-14.jpg Royal Tea House picture by spotdotph

Tea lady, Tin Naquerra, cleans the pots and cups before presenting the loose leaf Pu-erh tea.

First step is cleaning the tea ware by pouring hot water on them. The tea bar is equipped with its own drainage system so Tin lets the water spill and drain into an opening in the table. Water clings to the sides of the pot like large dewdrops. Second step is "awakening" the tea leaves. Hot water is poured onto the tea leaves inside the pot then drained out. This is done to cleanse the tea from impurities and also to activate it. The steps that follow are the mixing, pouring and serving of the tea.

2-15.jpg Royal Tea House picture by spotdotph

This picture was taken 8 minutes into the ceremony. The tea was worth the wait!

5) Red Furnishing. Rattan chairs and shelves varnished with a patina of red lend a charming character to Royal Tea House's cozy space. You can sit here enjoying your brew and people watch or ogle the tea collection, tea jar, teapots and wooden utensils available for sale.

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6) Magic Tea Pot. The most interesting of Royal Tea House's tea ware products is the Magic Tea Pot. There's no magic spell cast on it, but seeing how it works made me think there ought to be. Water was poured onto the pot and as soon as the small tea cups are fitted onto the base directly below the spout, the water (or tea) pours directly onto the cup without any hand to tilt the pot. You may call it a lazy person's tea pot but if you're brewing tea by your lonesome, you can enjoy cup after cup without having to pour it yourself.

7) "Seven Bowls of Tea". Here's the famous poem of Lu T'ung (Lu Tong), a ninth century T'ang dynasty poet and tea connoisseur. Taste the poem, savor the tea.

"Seven Bowls of Tea"
The first cup moistens the throat;
The second shatters all feeling of solitude
The third cup cleans digestion;
The fourth induces perspiration;
With the fifth cup, the body sharpens, crisp;
And the sixth cup leads to heaven;
The seventh cup sits streaming–
It needn't be drunk, as from head to feet
one rise to abode of the immortals.

The Royal Tea House is located at the Lower Lobby of the Century Park Hotel. 599 P. Ocampo St., Malate, Manila. For reservations and inquiries, please call 474-8706 or 528-8888.

Images taken by Cathy Paras-Lara.

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