Monday, September 01, 2008

Kaleidoscopic Asia: The Tea Route

[I would like to first apologize for my oversight in forgetting to bring my trusted digital cam along for the ride. So bear with me for a purely wordy escapade.]

In Malaysia, having high tea in the late afternoon has become a favorite pastime in cities as attested to by the many hotels offering High Tea Buffet. Apparently, this social setting is a British tradition and is not popular, almost non-existent even, in US. Of course high tea has become synonymous with a late afternoon gastronomic pursuit that has less to do with tea than an occasion to socialize. Nor is consuming tea restricted to that particular time of the day.

We are no connoisseurs of tea, but we do drink tea, more for its medicinal value since our preferred beverage has always been coffee, a habit cultivated from young for wify following her Mom's footstep. Me? I was more of a Coke addict, but have since dropped it several years ago when I learned that each can contains seven spoonful of sugar. That's a lot of sugar loading considering that I had that for every lunch and after every evening workout during those hot days in Malaysia.

Now I have resorted to tea, the green variety specifically, to go with my lunch. Then yesterday, wify suddenly had the urge to go for high tea. I remember reading about a tea lounge close to USF in the papers that I was reading while waiting for my car to be examined earlier in the week at the Toyota Service Center (yes, I have had an engine overheating problem again). Something that starts with a K.

Then I came across a mention of the same tea lounge in the Asian Trend Magazine that I picked up while grocery shopping at MD Oriental this Saturday. I found the magazine in the house, and proceeded to google the place. It's Kaleisia Tea Lounge on the east side of Fowler. The website, complete with menu and all, seemed inviting. (The logo is taken from the lounge's website.)

So that's where we headed yesterday, sometime around 5pm, knowing that it would close at 6pm on Sunday. CE was apprehensive initially, after hearing from me that the lounge is a favorite haunt for USF students as she does not enjoy crowded places. Maybe because it was the long weekend (today being Labor Day Holiday), we entered into a relatively quiet shop interior, unlike the crowd featured on the website, which was good. The left side of the wall is fronted by shelves showcasing tea pots and other paraphernalia in all shapes and sizes. Further in along the same side is the counter, with a smiling young gentleman standing behind.

Upon learning that this was our first visit, he pointed to the panel behind us (this would be the Wall of Tea comprising numerous glistening cans of tea numbering in the 100s featured on the website) for our tea selection. Wify surveyed the array of tea on display, and decided on Earl Grey and Georgia Peach. We also ordered the Asian Noodles and the Hummus-Avocado Wrap, two vegan dishes, and some cookies to go along with the tea.

Hung on the wall on both sides of the tea wall were the photographic exhibits featuring Angel He's photographs. While waiting for our orders, I ventured further into a settee area, which is, presumably, meant to provide a more intimate setting for patrons, and examined the book collection stacked against the left wall. I took out one, All the Tea in China (Kit Chow & Ione Kramer, China Books & Periodicals Inc., 1990, 187p), and retraced my steps to join my entourage.

Our orders came, we partook, me doing it while browsing through the book. The portions were small by normal standard, served on exquisitely shaped plates while the tea pots were emplaced on bamboo sheets spread on top of wooden supports. The tea smelled and tasted great, the vegan food scrumptious, and the cookies, a palate's delight.

Intrigued by the name of the lounge, we started to speculate as to its etymology. A native word in a foreign language? A combination of word parts, wify suggested? To solve the mystery, I confronted the young man who served us. Almost gleefully, he said it's a combination of kaleidoscope and Asia. That figures.

So our first visit to Kaleisia Tea Lounge turned out to be a refreshing experience, partially because of the less than normal weekend crowd, if it could qualify as a crowd at all during our timely visit. This first experience could almost rival the one that we have had with the Teapot Cafe back home, but only in terms of tea experience and the ambience, for a cafe obviously serves a much wider range of food selection than a lounge, as is the case here. However, in terms of the website design, my impression is the other way round, that of Kaleisia is decidedly much more appealing. CE also mentioned that she might bring her friends over for a taste of the delightful tea experience.


Lee Wei Joo said...

Sounds like a great place to have a relaxing time, I think I would give it a go next time I'm there!

Yang-May Ooi said...

This sounds very civilized - and a pleasant change from the coffee shop chains that normally abound everywhere. And the tea shops in the UK have a different feel to them - weak milky tea and walnut cake or Victoria sponges!

Say Lee said...

Thanks, Yang-May, for sharing your UK experience.

At the risk of irking the coffee crowd, I have always thought that the tea patrons are a cultured lot, or as you put it, civilized. I guess this has more to do with the much longer tradition of tea tasting.