22 December 2021

Hot in the City: Tea Connoisseur celebrates ancient traditions with fine tea and specialty food

| Lucy Ridge
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Coco's family stands in front of tea cannisters

Yun ‘Coco’ Zeng (right) with her father Zhao Xiang Zeng and mother Lianfang Yang. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Yun ‘Coco’ Zeng has spent her career working in high-end hotels across Asia and Australia and her recently opened tea lounge, Tea Connoisseur, combines this hospitality experience with her roots in the tea-growing province of Yunnan in China.

I was invited to taste what’s on offer and learn a little more about the humble cup of tea.

Coco’s family has been picking and processing tea for several generations in Yunnan, an area famous for its ancient tea plants that grow wild in the mineral-rich mountain soils.

“My mum is from Yunnan and I was born there and grew up there,” Coco told Region Media.

“Since I was very little … I started to learn to pick tea. Even during school time, when we had holiday season we would have to go to the tea farm and go into the forest to pick tea.”

It is estimated that some of these wild tea plants have been growing for hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years. Coco’s uncle runs the family business in Yunnan and is considered a Tea Master because of his expertise.

Glass teapot and cup against backdrop of tea shop

Tea Connoisseur serves fine teas from the Yunnan Province of China. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Coco has partnered with her uncle to import most of the specialty teas on the menu, which means that she can speak with great authority on the origin and quality of each tea.

A specialty of the Yunnan region is pu-erh tea, made from fermented tea leaves which are pressed into “cakes” and aged. Coco explained that these teas are appreciated much like fine wine, with enthusiasts buying and aging them for many years.

The pu-erh teas on the menu are listed by vintage and elevation as each variety differs in flavour based on location and the conditions of that year.

“[The variation is the] same as wine, because of the weather, the rain, the soil,” Coco explains.

“That’s why whenever we drink tea I want people to really appreciate where the tea comes from.”

I tried the Ancient Wild Black Tea, which was served in a beautiful glass teapot so I could watch the colour change as it steeped.

The first pour tasted grassy and sweet but subsequent brewings brought out stronger flavours that changed with each cup. As someone who generally just dunks a teabag in a mug I found this a far more mindful and luxurious approach to tea, which is part of Coco’s vision for Tea Connoisseur.

“We want people to come and feel relaxed and calm when they drink the tea,” she says.

The thoughtfully designed interior adds to the feeling of relaxation, with cool green colours and soft furnishings. Coco explained that she drew inspiration from the high-end hotel lobbies where she used to work.

Photo of salad

Tie Guan Yin Salad is garnished with crispy Oolong tea leaves. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Tea Connoisseur also offers a menu of traditional Yunnan food cooked by Coco’s parents. Many of the dishes use tea leaves as a starring ingredient.

I tried the Tie Guan Yin Salad, which is a dish of cos lettuce, cucumber, and a spicy sesame dressing topped with crispy fried Oolong tea leaves. The flavour of the tea leaves added a delicious complexity to the freshness of the salad.

My favourite dish was the Beef Tripe Noodles. The rice noodles were perfectly chewy and the tripe and mushrooms were mild in flavour but added great texture to the chilled dish. These noodles are also available with braised pork.

bowl of noodles

The menu at Tea Connoisseur features traditional Yunnan food like this cold rice noodle dish. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

There’s nothing better than tea and cake, and Coco has teamed up with a pastry chef who creates tea-infused desserts like a moreish cheesecake flavoured with Wild Ancient black tea and a subtly sweet panna cotta made with Yunnan Moonlight Beauty white tea.

Cheesecake with cup of tea

Tea-infused dishes like this black tea cheesecake will form part of the planned high tea sessions. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Coco plans to share her deep knowledge of tea by hosting tea appreciation courses, educational classes, cupping sessions and other special events. She’s also planning regular high tea sessions, alternating between tea with Japanese-inspired sweets and classic English afternoon tea with cakes and sandwiches.

Visitors to the shop can also purchase tea and taste some of the different varieties on offer.

The day I visited they were offering tastings of Oolong tea and an iced Green Tea made with butterfly pea flowers which turned the tea a vibrant purple colour.

Coco holds a round tea cake

Yun ‘Coco’ Zeng holds a ‘pu-erh’ pressed tea cake made by her family in Yunnan. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Tea Connoisseur is a luxurious experience that will change the way you think about your morning cuppa!

Tea Connoisseur is in Founders Lane, G07/2 Batman Street Braddon. Open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 9 pm, Sunday 10 am to 8 pm. Lunch between 10 am and 2.30 pm, dinner between 5.30 pm and close. Cakes and tea service available all day.
More information on upcoming events can be found on their website.

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Frank Spencer10:02 am 05 Jan 22

Oooohhh Betty lets try this!

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