You know how sometimes, you experience those perfect moments of serendipity which lead to wonderful moments and new friendships? One of those moments came together for me on the first Friday of this month.
Just a few weeks before I started my blog, Pei Wang started his. In his case, he took a far deeper dive than I, embarking not just on a new hobby but a new career too. I stumbled upon teanamu just after I started Kavey Eats and, enjoying the mix of content, added it to my nascent blog roll. Pei dropped me a sweet note to thank me. He was in China at the time, expanding even further his knowledge of tea and the many traditions and customs that surround it.
He had a great visit to Hangzhou, in Anhui province, learning more about the cultivation and harvesting of tea. He also discovered the village that is the ancestral home of his mother’s family. And he gained his certification as a Tea Artisan and Tea Assessor. On returning home he invited me to visit and taste some spring 2009 green tea he’d brought back with him.
Although I have, over the past 10 years, met literally hundreds of people I have come to know online, I was still a little nervous about meeting a stranger for the first time in their home. And yet, something in our flurry of emails made me feel safe and confident and I made the trek across to Westbourne Park, just a stone’s catapult away from my destination the previous evening, for the Artisan du Chocolat opening.
With Pei’s careful directions, I had no trouble finding his beautiful home – a detached Victorian ‘chocolate box’ that used to belong to the grander house next door but now sits in it’s own little plot, fronted by a corn-blue wall and a beautiful tree spilling over it.
Through the gate, waving a quick hello at the chickens running around in their coop under the shade of the tree, I was quickly welcomed inside. Pei’s home is also the location for his tea cookery and tea appreciation workshops and it’s beautiful. The sleek, beautifully-designed open-plan kitchen merges with a chic living area decorated with beautiful tea pots and serving utensils, cookery books and tomes on tea and the assorted sourvenirs of travels in Asia.
Pei wasted no time in making a start on preparing his adaptation of the traditional French madeleine recipe (by adding powdered oolong tea to the cake mix and scattering seeds over the top). Just as he started, another friend of his arrived to enjoy the informal session. Conversation flowed freely and, despite our very different backgrounds – Pei grew up in Singapore and came to the UK in 2001 – we discovered many shared interests, particularly when it comes to food and drink. As we chatted, Pei interjected little pointers about the recipe and method, showing us each stage so we knew what to aim for. The recipe is one he shares with students attending his cookery workshop and it’s one he’s tweaked to perfection.
Before we knew it the little cakes were in the oven and his friend and I were invited to take tea in a summery little side room adjoining the kitchen. The room is a crescent shape and the outer, curving wall is built entirely from clear glass bricks, letting in lots of lovely, diffused light. Here, Pei had set up the paraphernalia of tea including a proper tea box (with tray beneath to catch discarded water and leaves), a samovar to keep the water boiling and an array of tea pots, cups and utensils. And most important of all, his treasure chest of precious teas.
I was captivated by the process of making and serving the tea, as well as the guidance on how to best hold the cup and drink and enjoy the tea. I also loved Pei’s stories about the origins and properties of the different teas and his help in describing the flavours. He also taught us about the different leaves and methods used to collect and prepare tea.
A short while later, maybe two or three teas down the road, the oven buzzer sounded telling us the cakes were ready. I took photos as Pei popped them out of the tray to cool briefly before piling them onto a plate for us to enjoy during the remainder of our tea appreciation session.
Several teas and cakes and a great deal of chatting later, it was time to head home with a new appreciation and understanding of tea, a generous selection of teas to enjoy at home and, most important of all, a new and wonderful friendship to take into the future.