Bar­tender gives tea­house a cool sum­mer­time twist

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE DINING - By MIKE PETERS michaelpeters@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

In this very tra­di­tional Ming-style tea­house, the fla­vors and aro­mas I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing are a lit­tle un­ex­pected. Tar­ragon. Grape­fruit. Pep­per. Blue­berry. So far the pro­file might fit an ex­otic kind of fruit tea, ex­cept these were mud­dled in a good gin.

You could for­give the staff at the luxe Nuo ho­tel’s Yuan Tea­house for be­ing a lit­tle con­fused. The el­e­gant space in Bei­jing has a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion for top Chi­nese teas served in a very tra­di­tional style.

Now they were be­ing asked to serve gin drinks? And ICED tea?

“We can do some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and still do it with great qual­ity,” says At­tila Balint, the ho­tel’s res­i­dent bar guru.

In­vited to come and cool off on a re­cent 40 C Bei­jing af­ter­noon, a dozen lo­cal me­dia folks from around the cap­i­tal gath­ered in the ho­tel’s tea house, where Balint first poured re­fresh­ing sips of four spe­cially brewed chilled teas.

The idea might feel straight from the Amer­i­can South, where I was raised, but the fla­vors were pure Chi­nese. Feng- huang, a smooth oo­long. Jas­mine, “Don’t add ice — make ice out of it in a tray, then add it to cock­tails or a sparkling wine.” Wuyi Shuix­ian, roasted to give it a sweet note, and a hint of ba­con. (“It’s chilled, but you feel its warmth as it goes down.”)

The fourth of­fer­ing is not tea at all but suan­mei­tang, a Chi­nese bev­er­age known for at least a thou­sand years, made from smoked plums, rock su­gar and other in­gre­di­ents such as sweet os­man­thus.

“The first taste may be a bit sour,” says Balint, “but then you start feel­ing the dif­fer­ent lay­ers: sour plum, hi­bis­cus flower, dried or­ange peel with a can­died taste. I like to add it to sparkling wine with hi­bis­cus flower.”

Balint has made his own study of teas — his face lights up when dis­cussing the most pre­cious teas from an­cient trees in Yun­nan prov­ince — but he soon moves on to an­other crowd-pleas­ing topic: gin.

Don­ning a white med­i­cal lab coat, a stetho­scope and big round glasses, the cock­tail spe­cial­ist sud­denly ap­pears at the head of the ta­ble with a trol­ley loaded with 37 gins and six ton­ics.

“Yes,” the self-de­scribed Gin Doc­tor pro­claims, “we have now trans­formed a tea house into a gin gar­den”.

The cart can be over­whelm­ing — the sec­ond shelf has an equally broad ar­ray of “botan­i­cals”, the ex­tra in­gre­di­ents and fla­vors one might add to a gin and tonic. They range from fresh and dried fruits to rose­mary, al­mond, vanilla and more aro­matic good­ies in del­i­cate porce­lain jars.

The Gin Gar­den Menu makes it easy on the left side, with a lengthy list of sig­na­ture cock­tails, in­clud­ing a lime­and-cherry blos­som de­light with sakura tonic. For the most adventurous, the right-hand page is a guide to mak­ing your own blends. Sig­na­ture cock­tails run 80 yuan ($12) each; DIY cre­ations may run around 150, depend­ing on which gin and which tonic you choose.

Want to learn more? The Gin Doc­tor is in — Balint’s trol­ley ap­pears in the tea­house ev­ery af­ter­noon and rolls up to O’Bar in the evenings. Yuan Tea­house

Yuan Tea­house at Nuo Ho­tel Bei­jing, A2 Jiang­tai Road, Chaoyang dis­trict. 0105926-8281.

Grace­ful in­te­ri­ors and court­yard evoke the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) era, even us­ing Yix­ing Clay teapots pop­u­lar­ized dur­ing the Ming pe­riod. Pre­mium teas on of­fer in­clude green tea from Hangzhou and Suzhou, black tea and white tea from Fu­jian, pu’er tea from Yun­nan and oo­long tea from the Wuyi and Anxi moun­tain re­gions, sourced di­rectly from Chi­nese tea farm­ers and plan­ta­tions with cul­tural her­itage

PHOTOS BY MIKE PETERS / CHINA DAILY

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