The three-hatted Sepia and their tea supplier, Tomte Tea, has produced a most interesting (and personally, I believe, brilliant) concept: the tea degustation.
I can almost hear you wonder: “what the heck is a tea degustation?!” At first I thought it was a range of the teas Tomte and Sepia were going to showcase, but that was only half the story. To put quite simply, instead of matching wines with your degustation, you have matching teas!
The teas have been thoughtfully chosen by tea sommelier Emelie Bry Berg, where a tea is (roughly) paired to two courses.
As an appetiser, we have the Makaibari green tea. It is a light and subtly sweet tea with a hint of dryness. It actually has a very different flavour profile to the Chinese and Japanese green teas – kind of not surprising, considering that it actually originates from a fourth-generation owned tea farm in India.
Our actual first course-paired tea is the Hawaiian-grown rainforest. This white tea has been hand-picked and hand-crafted on a 10-year old micro-lot farm, where only 50 kg of the tea leaves are picked each season. The tea has quite big leaves and very little processing has been done to it.
This was one of my favourite teas on the day; I loved the subtle floral notes – it was so light and delicate in flavour.
This dish was so divine – the delicateness of the slivers of kingfish and bacon belied its punch of flavour from the saltiness of the roe to the acidity from the ponzu.
It was interesting that when the dish was tasted with the Makaibari tea, the flavours seemed a bit more robust, while the Hawaiian-grown rainforest tea played to the natural sweetness of the dish.
Another dish that I loved and was a hit with the table. The play on the sushi nigri was fun – I really enjoyed the crunch of (what I think is) popped rice and the perfect amount of saltiness from the soy gelee. Combined with incredibly fresh seafood and the extremely intense soy sauce and pickled ginger droplets, this dish was really perfection.
I never, ever eat pickled ginger – mostly because I have an intense dislike of ginger, but I would happily have this pickled ginger with my sushi any day.
Moving on to a slightly stronger tea, we had the Hawaiian Oolong next, which was grown on the side of a volcano. (Yes, a volcano!!) It was hand-rolled twenty five times and pan-fired in small batches; you can see just how unusually large the tea leaves are when it unfurls when it’s brewed.
“Wow…” was all I could say while eating this dish. It was so complex and bold in flavour, from the sharp creaminess of the goat milk chevre to the strongly tangy rhubarb, that at times it felt like the different components were fighting for your attention, but it settles down and melds into a harmonious chord that rings out deliciously.
The oolong gently adds a depth to the dish and mellows out the sharp tang of the rhubarb.
As our meal progressed, it felt like each dish outdid its predecessor by some way or another… and this dish wasn’t any different.
I absolutely adored the super fresh yellow fin tuna with the deliciously salty jamon, the crunchy texture from the crackling and the creamy, gooey creaminess of the poached yolk; it was utterly divine. The tea simply added a lovely dulcet overtone to the dish.
The Setoya Momiji Black tea is considered to be the first true artisan black tea from Japan. I haven’t really thought about it, but when told that black tea in Japan is quite rare, it made perfect sense why it would be: green tea reigns supreme and milk and sugar aren’t as prolifically used in Japan (particularly for tea, so I can imagine how odd someone would find adding such items to their tea).
I was pretty amazed that the Setoya Momiji tea did not need milk or sugar to temper the bitterness one would expect from a black tea – simply because it wasn’t bitter! It was actually quite mellow and sweet for a black tea… I have much love for this tea – definitely one of my top three teas of the day.
The first thing I noticed about this dish was the yuzu-scented dashi – the sharp, tangy smell wafted so delicately and deliciously that it almost made me forget to document before devouring it.
I would have to say that both the poached spanner crab and bonito was the meatiest and tastiest I’ve ever had; it was so full of flavour, yet still retained a lightness about it. Simply amazing.
The meatiness of the fish and crab were cut through by the sharp dashi, while a very subtle touch of ginger added a lovely warmth to the dish. It was surprising to taste just how garlicky the garlic flowers were, I mean, the garlic flavour was quite intense! Deliciously intense, of course hehe.
And the flavour train continues! The wagyu beef was mind-blowingly tender, perfectly seasoned and full of robust flavour with a beautiful touch of acidity from the citrus soy. The Kombu crumbs added a very nice touch of texture to the dish and I wouldn’t be lying if I said not a crumb was left on this dish.
Next, we had the Pu-erh tea, which is the only tea to be aged – this tea is 7-years old! What’s interesting is that most Pu-erh tea aren’t labelled as how aged they are, but its price point would be a good indication. For example, $15 / kg Pu-erh tea would be not such a great brew.
A lot of people would use a cast iron teapot for black tea, where some would use a smaller tea pot so as to have more flavour, as well as not washing the pot with soap to give the tea more depth in flavour.
Pu-erh tea has a really interesting flavour – it was darker than the others, more robust, and had kind of like a dark chocolate and espresso note.
…Which made it a perfect pairing to the dark chocolate in this dish, as it brought out that bittersweetness from the chocolate.
I think this dish was a bit challenging by combining cherry, chocolate and coconut yoghurt with venison (though a very interesting challenge). While the venison tasted a little gamy, it was utterly succulent and its seasoning was spot on. The unusual components tempered the gaminess, I felt, by sheer unusualness perhaps – you had the tart cherry puree playing on the bittersweet notes of the chocolate crumbs while the coconut yoghurt added a refreshing, slightly creamy flavour to the dish.
I was a bit worried about by the pepper being too spicy, but I felt it had the right amount of kick to keep things interesting.
The LaKyrsiew Spring tea is a wonderfully light and fruity tea with a touch of rich caramel flavour. It’s probably, at the very least, my second favourite tea of the day – so delicious! LaKyrsiew originated from a tea farm run by a husband and wife team in India’s north east highlands, which I think makes it even more special.
With all the hubbub of the desserts course arriving, I kind of missed a beat and didn’t manage to capture the Whagae Hadong Korean black tea – it’s the very first tea Emelie picked for Sepia’s tea collection too. Whagae Hadong is a first harvest black tea, which I couldn’t appreciate until I was told it meant that only the baby (or first) leaves are used in the tea, picked in the first three weeks of spring. These first leaves are the most prized, as they have the most flavour. The Whagae Hadong tea is hand-harvest and hand-rolled at a small tea farm on Jiri Mountain in Korea.
The Korean black tea is quite complex with very distinctive in flavour and unlike your run-of-the-mill black tea, it is not bitter.
We were treated by chef Martin Benn with a new dessert creation: the Pearl.
Finger lime, ginger ale, cream cheese, and frozen yoghurt are all inconspicuously contained in an unassuming pearl-like sphere. The flavour is an intense explosion of bright ginger and lime that is almost tempered by a cold, powdery frozen yoghurt.
The Pearl was actually served with yuzushu, which is basically sugary sake. It was a wonderful bright and tangy beverage; something I could see myself getting tipsy on quite quickly.
The Apple and Blackcurrant didn’t need to be cracked opened like the Pearl, as the blackcurrant shell gives way quite easily (which made me wonder just how on earth do they do it!).
The flavours aren’t as intense as with the Pearl, but it is just as delicious and refreshing.
The french nougat was so stupendously creamy and so soft that it practically melted in my mouth, but it was the white chocolate and yuzu ice cream that claimed my heart. The sweet creaminess of the white chocolate combined with a gentle tang of yuzu… dang!
The summer chocolate forest is actually a lot denser than it looks. There’s so many components that makes up this dish that if you weren’t full by now, you most definitely will be.
The “forest” consisted of soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, orange and thyme cream, sour cherry sorbet, native finger lime, grean tea, liquorice, and chocolate twigs. Each spoonful has a slightly different flavour – perhaps more bittersweet chocolate in one, sweet liquorice in another – and each time it is a delight (and I don’t even like liquorice!).
The tartness from the sour cherry sorbet cuts through the rich flavours of the “forest”, while the orange and thyme cream gently mellows out the sorbet and ties together the other components so well.
Benn’s signature Japanese Stones are no longer on the menu, but we were again humbly treated to not only one flavoured stone, but three: mulberry, chocolate and salted passionfruit.
By this stage, I was incredibly full and sadly could only fit one stone in. I thought it was rather fun that as you can’t tell which stone holds what flavour, it was like a lucky dip! I scored a salted passionfruit and it was blissfully sweet, salty and tart all at the same time.
And so ends a rather unique and amazing degustation.
Sepia will be holding these tea degustations every quarter and I know that I’ll be there at the next one with some friends in tow! It is simply too fantastic an experience to keep to oneself.
Tomte Tea‘s collection has been carefully selected from over 200 farms, choosing to stock only the more interesting teas. While their range isn’t large, it is definitely very special.
Sepia’s food and service are just out of this world. F and I had dinner here a week before the tea degustation and the food was just as fantastic the first time – perhaps even better!
eatshowandtell dined as a guest of Tomte Tea and Sepia
201 Sussex St
Sydney, 2000, NSW
Ph: (02) 9283 1990