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Yum Cha Chats: It’s all about the brew with Thomas Von Party

A tea-heads bucket list to Asia

  • Thomas Von Party
  • 22 March 2020

Sunday’s are hard but can be made easier with unexpected delights — so here’s some fluff to get you through it. Inspired by a recent jaunt for dim sum with Miss Yellow in Hong Kong, allow us to present the first of many Yum Cha Chats — which means let’s go eat dim sum and drink tea in Cantonese. The series will dig into the obscure and tasty 'fillings' you never knew about your favourite DJs and have nothing to do with music — every Sunday. Best enjoyed from bed…

One of the most pristine and nurtured cultures of Asia, and probably also the most broadly consumed beverage in the world, is tea. It has history, diversity, zenful practices, nutritional and alchemical properties and is truly appreciated around the world. Its roots stem from across Asia and the Middle East, with China and India being the largest cultivators in the world. We caught up with psychedelic party guru, Multi Culti label-honcho, and the owner of Montreal's go-to spot for great drinks and an open-minded dancefloor, Datcha — Thomas Von Party. The Canadian native, who spent some of his early years growing up in Goa, has an affectionate soft spot for Asia and its local music scenes, having graced festivals and clubs in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. He also happens to be an innate tea connoisseur.

When Thomas was in Hong Kong for a gig once upon a time, he went to a tea shop surrounded by art galleries on Hollywood Road and spent a good hour and a half absorbing some valuable lessons from an in-house tea-master. So we got back in touch with him to find out more about the roots of his connoisseur-like interest in the art of tea.

Pulled milk tea in Manali

“There’s a little place in Goa called Sagar Hotel, although I went there for over 30 years without ever knowing the name. We just called it ‘the bhaji place’. My all-time favourite chai shop was a place called Saraswati Tea Corner in Manali but sadly that closed down. The tea (from Manali) is actually super simple —pulled milk tea, nice and sweet, and no masala. They also serve this delicious green pea, shredded coconut, potato and green chilli dish with a little bun, not chapati, and that bun is the perfect dipping bread — and I’m not even a dipping kind of guy. Something about the mix between the spicy bit of green chilli and the sweet chai is just magical. There is nothing high-brow about it; it just gives that sense of homey comfort, and that is the essence of what I love about tea. Small sticky glasses always served boiling; it’s a real local place. I suppose it’s more about the sugar and the boiled milk than it is about the special quality of the tea, but as an experience and it’s still my favourite. If I could drink one last cup of tea in life, that would be it.”

Retail therapy for the tea connoisseur

Sakurai is a meticulous shop in Tokyo, and in contrast to my first choice, this place is super fancy. They do tea tastings, and the attention to detail is mind-blowing. Everything from the hand toasted hojicha to the finest gyokuro to their signature blends that feature herbs like shiso are top quality. Also, the different types of clay and ceramics used are all exquisite, and the skill and precision of the tea-masters is incredible. They serve very subtle sweets to go alongside the teas. A warning for the budget-conscious though — this place isn’t cheap.”

A tea-heads bucket list in Asia

“I’m sad to say that I haven’t even been here Darjeeling in Fujian Province, and tea plantations in Japan, are both on my bucket list. I think Fujian is the ultimate place for tea and I’d love to spend some time trekking to remote little plantations in the area. I have been to a beautiful coffee plantation in Guatemala, however.”

Lotus leaf by a Buddhist monk-chef

“A Japanese tea ceremony is beautiful, meditative and truly sensual. I went to a Michelin-calibre kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo, and while it was a filling meal, and not just a tea ceremony, the service and presentation was truly a work of art. One other thing comes to mind — there’s an absolutely beautiful episode of Chef’s Table on a Korean Buddhist monk and chef, and the scene where she makes the lotus leaf tea is one of the most spell-binding things I’ve ever seen.”

Rich black tea for a deep satisfaction

“My favourite tea? It has to be a black tea for me, for its richness and satisfaction. As much as I can appreciate fine green teas, pu’erhs, or white teas, a rich black tea is simply the best. It will sound pedestrian, but I’m not sure if anything is better than Earl Grey, although I do love a smoky Lapsang Souchong. Smoky teas like lapsang work a kind of magic on the soul, it’s a bit like a finely aged single-malt...the smokiness wraps you up in warmth and nostalgia. It speaks to me of transience, of change… of the past.”

[Images via TWGTEA, OYO Travel Guide, Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience]

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