The key philosophy of Tea Journal is channeling the immersive, meditative experience and ritual of 2000 years’ of Chinese tea ceremony for the modern day, with delicious desserts to match.
“No, I’m not kidding – you can really get ‘tea drunk,” Tea Journal owner Sunny tells us as he dowses the small brown ceramic cups for our tea ceremony in freshly brewed tea (never drink the first brew – wash your cups with it instead).
As we sat talking and sipping on tiny cups of tea in Tea Journal’s clean-lined and bright interior, I really did feel a sort of calm settle over me – a state Sunny deemed suitably ‘tea drunk’ – and found myself bonding quickly with a complete stranger over shared angst over Chinese illiteracy, as well as discussions about Australian media and Chinese property investors. All the while, I learned enough facts about tea to start my own Trivia Pursuit category.
For example: there are over 162,000 varieties of tea in the world and almost all tea leaf varieties (green, black, white, oolong, pu’er) come from the same tree – the camellia sinensis (mind = blown). Also, the tea that smells good on store shelves? Probably all sprayed with essence because tea leaves aren’t meant to smell before they’re boiled.
Sunny’s seen tea drunkenness before – Tea Journal hosts ‘Open Mind Tea Talk’ events through Meetup.com, inviting everyone to come and just talk as a group about various things on their mind. It’s not quite as official or one note as group therapy but a participant once tracked his blood pressure with his Fitbit — and yep, it steadily went down.
For fellow introverts or even just your average, tired worker, Tea Journal’s physical store exists as a quiet alternative to crowded bars or pubs, open until 9PM right next to Chatswood station. With most of its tea sourced from owner Sunny’s plantation in Yunnan, the shop is a confection of beautiful Chinese tea sets, sold alongside packaged boxes of loose leaf tea and the more traditional circular packages.
We sit down at the dark oak table in the middle of the room, decorated with quirky trinkets and ornaments. Sunny shows us how to hold the cup in the ‘Dragon Claw’ grip, also known as the ‘hold your cup this way if you want Chinese-tea-drinking street cred’ grip.
More tea trivial pursuit facts: The number one crime of tea-brewing? Letting the tea overboil or leaving the tea bag in the tea. This causes the tea to release all its enzymes in one go and ruins the flavour. If you take the filter and tea leaves out, you can add water many times (which will make your tea leaves last longer too).
Sunny’s done a whopping six and a half hour tea ceremony before but, thankfully, Tea Journal doesn’t demand that much commitment – a typical visit involves, like any other cafe, a pot of tea and dessert. Customers can request a mini tea ceremony from the staff (I’d say go for it, if you have the time!).
The first tea we try is the Gong Ting Pu’Er, a higher quality ‘royal’ strain of the black tea you might get at yumcha. Pu’Er tea can be raw or fermented and, like wine, can be aged so it acquires additional dimensions. A mere 1.5g of leaves is enough for ten brews, according to Sunny, and each ‘brew’ (enough to fill our three small cups) has a slightly different taste, growing in intensity and then tapering out. On the whole, Pu’Er has a woody, earthy fragrance and somewhat sharp taste.
I really enjoyed the green tea, which features leaves that were steamed in jasmine and then dried. The result are tight balls of tea leaves that slowly unroll as you add hot water. The jasmine scent is strong and very pleasant, but if you hold the cup closer, you smell the astringency of green tea. The tea was sweet and smooth – a definite recommendation, though Sunny advises us to not drinking green tea on an empty stomach as it can cause cramps.
I would almost recommend going to Tea Journal solely for their mini tea-infused chiffon cakes and Japanese cheesecake, all made freshly in-house. I detest overly sweet dessert so I’m happy to say that the chiffon cakes at Tea Journal pass the test and complement the tea experience incredibly well.
The matcha cake with rich matcha cream genuinely had the green tea bitterness to ground the flavours and the black sesame cake incorporates the crunch of sesame snaps for some textural interest. My favourite would have to be the black tea and rose cream cake, which won me over with its light subtle fragrance. I also generally dislike cream on my cakes but, here, it’s used sparingly and the cream is full of flavour, almost like a light glaze.
Unlike a LOT of cheesecake produced at chain bakeries which just taste like dry sponge cake, the Japanese cheesecake was actually very vivid and the sponge was moist and dense, while still being light and fluffy – this is Hokkaido-style Japanese cheesecake that is more like a spongecake than the dense, shortbread-y style of Western cheesecakes, and so is much lighter. My dining companion even preferred it to Uncle Tetsu’s!
If you prefer some sweetness in your tea, Tea Journal flavours the tea with stevia leaves, a sweet edible tea leaf that dissolves in water and is much healthier than sugar (and it’s not the extract either – it’s the actual leaves from the stevia plant). Tea Journal’s menu also incorporates iced tea for summer months.
Having grown up with some exposure to Chinese tea, I went to Tea Journal feeling like I wouldn’t be particularly surprised. I left feeling quite inspired by Tea Journal’s clear dedication to helping its customers slow down, learn and share China’s rich tea culture. For those without any knowledge of Chinese tea ceremony, this is quite a unique experience – and very different to Japanese tea ceremonies, in case you were wondering!
Tea Journal hosts a free Tea Appreciation class every Wednesday at 6PM where participants can learn about tea history. It’s really worth popping in and seeing if you get ‘tea drunk’ too — or at least so you can try their cakes.
Shop 44 Chatswood Interchange
436 Victoria Ave, Chatswood
Phone: 0420 713 382
Web: Tea Journal
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Tea Journal