Sunday 23 September 2012

Afternoon Tea Class @ Rachel's Kitchen

It was a day worth celebrating: I had completed all the coursework and supervision requirement of my sex therapy course! In other words, I was finally done with all the Saturday classes and supervision sessions, reports and books! I desperately needed something fun and indulgent to honour my regained freedom! When it comes to celebration, is there anything better than a grand round of afternoon tea?? :) 

YES THERE IS - which is learning how to create an afternoon tea set before enjoying it! 

Thanks to Vivian, I had the chance to visit Rachel's Kitchen for this very unique tea experience. Hidden in a grubby industrial building, the existence of this pretty cooking studio seemed totally surreal to me.

I sincerely advise everyone to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier for class, cos you will spend the first 5 minutes oohing and aahing at the rustic design of the place, and the next 10 minutes taking pictures of every corner (maybe even the washroom, no kidding)! Yes, Rachel's Kitchen is such a spellbinding place. :)

The cooking studio doubles as a shop selling chic kitchenware and cooking ingredients. The products were so tastefully displayed that I had some trouble distinguishing them from the decorative kitchenware collected by owner Rachel Yau. 

Loveramics' products for sale :) 

I wish I had a cupboard like this!

Girly kitchen must-haves: pedestal cake stand with glass dome, porcelain teaware and most importantly, flowers :) 

Cutlery, teapots and glassware in vintage style

Look at this wooden communal table! The quintessential accent piece for a country-style kitchen!

My camera battery was already running low before Rachel gave each of us a neatly printed set of recipes and gathered everyone to the large kitchen table. Rachel first talked a bit about the history of afternoon tea, then formally began the class by teaching us the recipe of strawberry rose jam. Making this jam was a lot easier than I had thought - basically, you only had to cook strawberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and  rose oil together - the hardest part turned out to be fighting the urge to eat the French strawberries, which filled the kitchen with a candy sweet aroma as they cooked. :9

We girls were so in love with the Le Creuset casserole that we couldn't keep our eyes off it! Our class was in fact a special collaboration between Le Creuset and Rachel's Kitchen, so many items  used in the class were by the French cookware manufacturer. Le Creuset cookware, which boasts a palette of gorgeous hues, can make even princessy Kong girls burn with the desire to cook! I promise to cook regularly if someone is kind enough to buy me a full set of LC cookware in coastal blue... haha :P 

Next we were shown how to make macaron shells. Macarons are tiny but making the perfect shells (i.e  all shells are of the same size and perfectly round, with a smooth top and a "crown" at the base) is an art that requires lots of skills and practice. I was glad that our class was mainly demonstrative, so that this daunting task was handled by Rachel and her assistants. :P

Macaron shells rising in the oven... :)

After sending the macaron shells into the oven, we finally had the chance to cook by ourselves. I paired up with a classmate and made scones for the very first time in my life. The ingredients had been prepared for us; all we needed to do was to mix everything, fold the dough, and cut out the scones. Not too difficult even for people with little baking experience. The 6 scones at the bottom of this pic were my babies, fresh from the oven and piping hot! :)

After the practical, Rachel went on to demonstrate the preparation of other sweets and sandwich fillings. Although Rachel looked kinda cool, she was actually a good teacher who explained everything clearly and patiently. Near the end of the class, we were asked to do the final touches, namely filling macarons, decorating sweets, making sandwiches, and finally, arranging everything nicely on the beautiful Le Creuset Strawberry Tea Cake Stand.

Despite my limited input, I experienced a great sense of achievement when the tea set was finally ready. Shown here was the portion for 2 persons. It didn't look too different from what you get in a 5-star hotel, did it? ;)

Sweets (clockwise from top): chocolate mini cakes, lemon tarts, strawberry rose macarons

Sandwiches: egg mayonnaise, Spanish ham, smoked salmon, mango and chicken salad

Fig scones with homemade strawberry rose jam and cream

After 3 hours that felt like eternity, I was able to enjoy my tea set with a pot of Earl Grey at last! The tea set was not perfect - the scones were in fact quite a disaster. They were crumbly but tasted totally flat and unbuttery :( The recipe needed more butter I think! Notwithstanding this unforgivable problem,  I loved the tea set because everything else was delicious. The sandwiches were big, filling and yummy. The macarons had a rather rough appearance, but like any other homemade food, they tasted much better than they looked. The shells were crispy and chewy, and that rosy, creamy filling was unforgettably fragrant. And who would have expected the humble-looking chocolate cake to be a knockout? It had that half-souffle-half-brownie texture of molten chocolate cake, and a dense, moist core filled with jam (Rachel had used the strawberry rose jam I think... it went so well with everything!). The classmate who paired up with me was probably shocked by how ravenous I was, so that he told me to finish the whole tea set after eating only 1/4 of it...  :P 

I went home with a full stomach, a goodie bag of leftovers (the tea set was really huge), a set of recipes, tonnes of lovely pictures and memories of an enjoyable afternoon. True, the class was expensive, but it was all worth it. :) 

Rachel's Kitchen (website)
Room 1301, 13/F, Hoi Yuen Industrial Building, Hoi Yuen Road, Kwun Tong
Afternoon tea class: $580 per person including cooking demonstration, a bit of practical and an afternoon tea set

Sunday 9 September 2012

MingCha x teakha Tea Pairing Class

Finally visited teakha in Sheung Wan in late August. It has recently started an interesting series of tea pairing classes with MingCha. I was interested in joining the class, yet given the suffocating hotness in HK I had been reluctant to move my lazy ass to Tai Ping Shan Street... until I received Eric's invitation. I decided that an evening in a charming little cafe with my good friends might be what I needed in the face of endless work. 

I was sweaty all over after a walk from Sheung Wan MTR Station to teakha in the roasting weather. When I pushed teakha's glass door open, it was like I had entered another world. The turquoise and whitewashed walls gave the petit cafe a fresh and clean feeling. The wooden communal table and open kitchen imparted casualness to the place, creating a welcoming atmosphere that made every guest feel like home. 

Class began as soon as all the 10 participants had arrived. It was led by Tea Master Vivian Mak, a sweet, energetic lady who is also the founder of local tea brand MingCha. In an animated manner she gave us a basic introduction to the types and manufacturing process of tea, which prepared us for subsequent tea tasting. The small class size made interaction easy - everyone was free to ask questions or share his/her tea-drinking experience. This had certainly made the class more interesting and informative. :)

As the theme of our class was black tea, we were given 4 kinds of black tea to taste. To facilitate comparison, Vivian used a standardized brewing time of 1 minute for each tea. Shown above are the dry leaves of Lapsang Souchong, sourced by MingCha from Wuyi, China. With its unique smoky aroma that results from smoke-drying over pinewood, it's an unforgettable tea for sure... but I really can't say I like this liquid version of bacon. Vivian said Lapsang Souchong was highly sought-after by Western but not Asian tea drinkers, perhaps because Westerners were accustomed to beverages of strong taste (e.g. whiskey). This seemed very true in our class: our Caucasian classmates loved it unanimously while the rest of us thought the taste was too overpowering. :P 

This is another black tea by MingCha: Tanyang Golden Rim from Fujian, China. Can you see the golden rim of the leaves? :) It is a robust black tea with hints of fruitiness. I thought it was pretty decent. :)

Owner of teakha, Nana, shared with us two black teas in her collection. This is Khongea Assam Tea from India. The tea leaves were finely cut as they were CTC-processed (CTC = crush, tear and curl). Vivian told us that because of the large surface area of the leaves, CTC teas infused quickly and required only a short brewing time. No wonder this tea became bitter after brewing for only a minute! 

Finally, we had Forest Black Tea from Taichung, Taiwan. It's lighter than the other 3 teas, slightly sweet but very fragrant, and it has a floral undercurrent. It's definitely my favourite of the day. 

After we had tasted all the teas, we were served a freshly baked apple pie. We were supposed to pair it with the 4 teas by ourselves and see which combination was the best. But since it was already after 7pm, mindful tea pairing had become a mission impossible to us.  Without much hesitation we shoved the tea cups aside and wolfed down the pies right away! :P Sorry, Vivian... but the pie was just TOO delicious! The crumbly topping was buttery and crispy, and there were lots of fruits in the hot pie. The fact that Eric (who hates desserts with fruits) had finished the whole pie quietly was a solid proof of how marvellous it was! ;)

Hungry as we were, how could we be satisfied by the apple pie alone? (At that point, we had completely forgotten about tea tasting!!) Fortunately there was homemade ginger ice cream to appease our growling stomachs. The ice cream was rich and very smooth - unlike cheap homemade ice cream that often contains small pieces of ice - which went really well with the crunchy ginger cookies. The balance of sweetness and spiciness was perfect. I must say that I was thoroughly impressed by teakha's desserts!

Each of us was also served a glass of Indian Chai, one of teakha's speciality teas. I like to have chai with lots of sugar, but teakha's version is largely unsweetened. It's too spicy for my liking, but if you are looking for authentic masala chai it will definitely be your cup of tea. 

Overall, the tea pairing class was a fun experience... although we didn't really spend much time pairing the desserts with tea (obviously the extraordinarily delicious desserts were to blame :P), it was great to try different kinds of tea under guidance and have some seriously scrummy desserts! Just 2 humble suggestions for Nana's and Vivian's consideration: 1) distilled water, instead of water infused with lemon, should be used for palate-cleansing during tea tasting; 2) snacks can be provided to guests before tea tasting so that they do not have to drink tea on an empty stomach. Indeed, when people are less hungry it may be easier to engage them in tea pairing. ;P 

Last but not least - thanks Eric for the invitation. It's wonderful to have friends who love food around me! :D

teakha (website)
Shop B, 18 Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Opening hours: 11:00am-7:00pm (Wed - Sun)
* Visit teakha's Facebook page to get updates about upcoming classes and activities!

MingCha (website)
12D Wah Ha Factory Building, 8 Shipyard Lane, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
* Visit MingCha's Facebook page for more updated info about the company!