When exploring the tea scene in Cardiff, Waterloo Tea is the place to start. In fact, their Penylan teahouse is where I drank the cup of Vanilla Black that started my love affair with tea! Each high quality tea is brewed with purified water of an exact temperature and for an exact amount of time. These temperatures and times have been decided upon after much experimentation to ensure they get the best flavour from each of their teas. Even water quality is something constantly being experimented with!
Their Penarth teahouse opened in July of last year and started it’s food and tea supper club evenings in October. They are held once or twice a month. I have only missed three so far and one of those was because it was my wedding day! The emphasis upon food is a departure from a traditional afternoon tea and cafe atmosphere and gives the Penarth teahouse it’s own clear identity. The idea of the food and tea evenings is to offer five courses of inventive, in season, fresh, locally sourced (mostly) vegetarian dishes and pair them with high quality, well-sourced loose leaf tea. When each dish and tea is bought out the flavours, sourcing and reason they are paired together is discussed. This is such an intriguing idea as it showcases tea in a way you may expect with something like wine and this brings out the tea geek in me! I love to drink tea with my meals at home so it is an idea I really connect with as a tea lover.
Waterloo Tea, Penarth is found in the Washington Building. It is a light and airy space with lots of large windows. The atmosphere for the evenings is both friendly and relaxed. Quiet instrumental music plays in the background whilst the teahouse staff welcome customers and take coats and scarves. This really makes it feel like a restaurant rather than a meal in a teahouse. You are given the menu when seated and this is the first time you know what is coming as you do not know the menu upon booking. Each course is bought out for all guests around the same time and the tea is bought out afterward. The staff are very knowledgeable due to their intensive training and can tell you so much about both the food and tea. Here is the menu from my Valentine’s Day visit…
The first course was a carrot and red lentil soup spiced with turmeric, cumin and chilli and served with carrot fritters and a mint yoghurt. This was paired with Yunnan Buds.
The soup was delicious with a little spicy kick and I adored the carrot fritters. Yunnan Buds is a Chinese white tea and at first thought you may be wondering why such a delicate tea would be paired with such a flavoursome dish. It is because white tea can be used as a palate cleanser. (This is something I do at home but I usually do it before a meal or after.) This is not to say that the tea flavour is unimportant. Far from it! I found this to be a very fragrant white tea with a flavour that could be tasted even though I had just eaten a course spiced with chilli. Yunnan Buds is very similar to the more common Silver Needle as it is grown in the Yunnan Province, rather than in the Fujian Province, it cannot share the name. As the name suggests, it is only the buds of Camellia Sinensis (the tea plant) that are picked for this tea and they are from wild tea bushes. The tea was served in a glass cup with no lip. This shape of cup means that you can get a great aroma before taking a sip. I really enjoy Yunnan as a black tea and even upon smelling this delicate tea I could smell that it originates from Yunnan. I can’t say that if I had not been told in advance which tea it was I could have picked this up, but you never know! As the menu above states the tea does have a fruity peachy flavour and this lingers on as an aftertaste. It is very rich with a lot of flavour for a white tea. This could be due to the climate and soil of the tea plantation of where it is grown or down to the fact that it comes from a wild plant. As well as detecting by smell, I could also taste a Yunnan flavour to the tea. If you have never had white tea before I would suggest trying Yunnan Buds to get used to drinking such a delicate tea variety. I much prefer Yunnan Buds to Silver Needle. I really enjoyed the tea and found it a great pairing with the soup.
The second course was a blood orange, feta and radicchio salad with toasted pine nuts and an orange blossom drizzle. This was paired with Sencha Sakura.
The salad was really fresh with a sweet and sour flavour due to the combination of blood orange and orange blossom drizzle, and the creaminess of the feta complimented it really well as it softened the taste. Green tea suits a fresh salad and Sencha Sakura is a Japanese green tea blended with Japanese sakura cherry blossom. The tea was served in a ceramic lipped tea cup. A lipped cup is the best shape of cup to drink a green tea from to ensure you get the best flavour. The only downside of this is that you are unable to get as strong an aroma as you can from a cup with no lip. The tea has a grassy smell that is typical of sencha but I couldn’t pick up any cherry blossom. Sencha tea also has a unique strong grassy taste. It is brewed at a lower temperature than other green teas and because of this Waterloo Tea have a specifically dedicated water heater to ensure they can brew it at the perfect temperature. This, along with the fact that it is a steamed tea, makes it very refreshing. The taste of blossom is not very strong but is just sweet enough to soften the strong unusual taste of sencha. This balance of flavours mirrors those in the salad making it a great pairing. I really enjoy a cup of plain sencha but I understand why it could be considered an acquired taste. This would be a great first sencha to try in order to experience a slightly softened grassy sencha flavour before moving on to a pure variety. I highly recommend giving sencha a try. It is currently the most expensive tea stocked by Waterloo Tea and they take so much care to ensure it is brewed perfectly. It really is a gem of a tea. The sakura blossom adds an interesting dimension, but it is still a background flavour and so does not overpower the sencha at all.
The third course was purple sprouting broccoli served with half a soft-boiled duck egg, a white bean and truffle oil purée and parmesan shavings. This was paired with Yellow Gold.
This course has previously been on the menu as a daytime special but it has been perfected making it a slightly different concoction. I love the taste of truffle and egg yolk together so I was really looking forward to this course when I read the menu. With egg yolk, white beans, truffle and cheese this course was quite rich and completely divine! Yellow Gold is a Chinese oolong tea from the Fujian Province. Oolong is an interesting variety of tea as it can vary from mild to strong. This is because on the scale of oxidation for teas it can range from roughly 10% – 80%. This leaves room for a lot of variation between different oolong teas. Oolong teas can be re-infused a number of times as the leaves are rolled and with each infusion the leaves open a little more. (You should give an oolong a very short first infusion, a long rinse really, to hydrate the leaves. The Chinese believe you should not drink this infusion as it is for your enemies!) The unfurling of the leaves can also mean a variation in flavour between different infusions of one type of oolong tea. Yellow Gold is quite a mellow yet fragrant oolong. It is a beautiful golden colour when brewed which is where the name must come from. It has a really inviting sweet floral smell. It is a really smooth oolong and tastes as sweet and floral as it smells. As it is a mellow oolong it is also reminiscent of a light green tea. Yellow Gold complimented the course really well because it’s rich flavour mirrored that of the food meaning it was not overpowered. It also worked as a refreshing palate cleanser for the next course due to it’s mellow nature.
The fourth course was beetroot tarte tatin served with haikido squash purée, a goats cheese mousse and a rocket and walnut pesto. This was paired with Blood Orange.
This was another course I was greatly anticipating as I love squash and cheese and I am currently making the most of beetroot whilst it is in season. The tarte tatin worked really well and the sweetness of the squash, and the rich creaminess of the cheese, really complimented the earthiness of the beetroot. Blood Orange is a highly flavoured tea and this is not something I usually enjoy. It is a Chinese puerh tea from Yunnan. Puerh tea is another intriguing variety of tea as it is fermented and can be stored and aged like a fine wine. It has an earthy flavour and can be both raw (sheng) or cooked (shou). Blood Orange is a cooked puerh. It has a very sharp and strong citrusy smell with the strong smell of the cooked puerh being overwhelmed. It has a very sharp and strong orange flavour with a slight earthy note. It would be a good first cooked puerh to try as some cooked puerhs can have a strong smell that might put some people off but the strong orange smell covers this. Of course you would have to like orange though… and I mean really like orange! This tea is not for me and I much prefer an aged raw puerh. In fact aged raw puerh is my favourite variety of tea. The Blood Orange Puerh was paired well with the course as the earthiness of the puerh complimented the earthiness of the beetroot well.
The last course was rhubarb and rose water fool served with shortbread. This was paired with Rosebud.
I love the flavour of rose in food so I really enjoyed this course. The rhubarb was sharp and the rose water cream stopped it being bitter meaning the flavours were really well balanced. It was deliciously sweet and creamy. I do not drink herbal infusions very often. I have Rosebuds at home but I generally infuse a couple with some black tea if I want a sweeter cup of tea or add them to chai. As I love rose I was curious to try it infused alone. Rosebud is exactly what it says it is, organic Rosebuds from Egypt.
It is light and delicate whilst being sweet and full of flavour and it smells so fresh. It went well with the dessert because of the freshly prepared rose water present in the fool and also because it could be compared to having a dessert wine due to it’s sweetness. It was a good way to round off the meal because, as it is a herbal infusion, it has no caffeine and the meal finished at around 10.30 pm. I found the pairing with the dessert perfect and I enjoyed the rosebuds infused on their own so much I have since done it myself at home.
The food and tea evenings are something I have visited in the past and will definitely continue to visit. The food is always delicious and has given me lots of inspiration for cooking at home. The most interesting aspect for me is the idea of pairing teas with savoury dishes. The atmosphere is relaxed but it is the perfect environment to experience new teas with true appreciation. You can smell the teas and talk about them in a way you may not feel comfortable to do in an everyday teahouse atmosphere. Another thing I appreciated was that there were no black teas served this time which meant more opportunities to showcase other teas. It was a great way to spend Valentine’s Day as this time of year can be saturated with Valentine’s menus and cheesy decorations. The only indications that it was Valentine’s Day were the red colour of some of the courses and the use of rose flavours and Rosebud tea. Rosebud tea was also used as a table decoration meaning a lovely aroma of rose throughout the meal. When leaving I noticed this sentence on the door: ‘committed to an ongoing exploration of the world’s finest teas’. I think this sums up Waterloo Tea perfectly and it is something I hope to continue to explore with them.
The supper club is £35 a head including the five courses and teas with alcoholic or soft drinks extra. Bookings can be made online, by telephone or by email.
[Nobody at Waterloo Tea was aware that I was going to write a blog post about my visit]
Speaking of Valentine’s Day this is the card I received from my husband. He could not have found a more perfect card…