Tea house bliss
A big slice of cake and Fijian friendliness
“Bula bula, welcome to Lo’s Tea House,” says Loraina Masibuli as we walk into Enedala village on Nanuya Lailai Island. “Call me Lo,” she says with a dazzling smile.
Twenty minutes earlier we had left behind the tranquil waters of Fiji’s famed Blue Lagoon Beach Resort, taking a well-trodden path through a coconut plantation, down a valley, across a river and over a ridge to get to the tea house.
Even by Fijian standards, Enedala village is tiny. It has just 11 families and 30 people. Lo sits us down inside and away from the blustery southeast trade winds that buffet the beach a few metres from her door. She tells us how she established the teahouse with her husband, Voka, 16 years ago.
“My husband is a chief at Nabukero village near the Sawa-i-lau Caves in the northern Yasawa Islands,” Lo says. His chiefly duties keep him from home most of the time so that he returns to Enedala village just once a month. With her husband absent, the first 10 years were tough for entrepreneurial Lo as she established the business. Visitors were sparse in the early days, sometimes just two or three each week.
“I didn’t have anything in the beginning, I had to borrow everything to get the tea house started,” Lo explains.
She says she would go to nearby tourist resorts to encourage travellers to visit her.
In recent years, Lo’s star has risen. Travellers come from across the globe to indulge in her special chocolate and banana cakes, served with traditional lemon-leaf tea. “The tea is the best. It makes you healthy and strong,” she says.
She ducks outside to a healthy looking shrub and plucks a handful of leaves from the bush.
Lo’s charmingly ramshackle tea house interior walls are lined with cotton cloth in colourful Fijian designs. External walls are clad in clapboard painted a vivid lime green and trimmed with burgundy shutters. Beach sand that clings to our feet is as welcome inside as the hermit crabs that wander in confidently. As we sip tea and tuck into a generous wedge of chocolate cake dripping with chocolate frosting, Lo reveals the secret to the rich smokiness of her cake.
“My secret ingredient is fresh coconut milk straight from the coconut,” she says. “We have plenty of coconuts here,” she laughs, spreading her arms wide to indicate the coconut palms that dominate the landscape.
Shunning modern conveniences, Lo’s cakes are baked as her grandmother did, in a cast-iron pot over an open fire. “I bake my cakes using firewood, rather than using gas, which gives them a special taste,” she says.
Our conversation is interrupted by Lo’s four-year-old granddaughter who waltzes in, red ribbon in her hair. “This is my naughty granddaughter Mili,” Lo says. “She’s interested in the guests who come to the tea house. She runs out greeting them bula, bula, bula,” Lo laughs, pulling Mili into her lap for an affectionate hug.
Lo’s is the kind of place where you could easily while away a few hours, laughing and chatting in true Fijian style. “I am very happy,” Lo sighs contentedly. So too are her guests.
Lo’s Tea House is on the southeast coast of Nanuya Lailai Island in Fiji’s Yasawa Islands. Open daily.
Air Niugini flies from Port Moresby to Fiji three times a week. See airniugini.com.pg.
Cake and smiles … Loraina Masibuli with her granddaughter Mili (right); a generous wedge of the chocolate cake, cooked in the traditional way (opposite page).