The art of tea cuisine
KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — Once they had mastered the art of tea, the owners of Purple Cane Tea worked on creating a tea cuisine. It would be healthy, with less salt, sugar and oil, and engage the subliminal flavours and aromas of tea.
That was 16 years ago. Purple Cane Tea Restaurant started at the KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur in 1997. Then another one opened at the Shaw Parade in Kuala Lumpur in 2006. This was followed by the Gardens outlet in 2007 and an Ipoh outpost in 2010. The newest one is at The Paradigm Mall in Kelana Jaya.
We were at the Shaw Parade restaurant; the serene surroundings gelled perfectly with the fine tea cuisine we were going to have. First were two soups — Sweet Corn Chicken Soup and the Lei Cha Soup.
The Dong Ding oolong tea was just an underlying flavour in the clear Sweet Corn Chicken Soup. Poured out of a teapot into cups, it did not intrude upon the sweet, natural essence of the ingredients. It had a long, delightful finish in the mouth,
You usually have Hakka Lei Cha with rice. Green tea leaves are blended with peanuts, sesame seeds, ikan bilis, mint and basil, with tea added into the soup.
Here Lei Cha is a soup to be savoured as it is. It has ground cashew nuts as its base, blended with Thai basil, mint and Long Jing tea.
In the glass teapot, it is a brilliant green and all the fragrance of the herbs burst through. The Long Jing tea has just a supporting role, but you do get the subtle aftertaste.
Who can fault this light Lei Cha — I finished every drop of it. I also learnt something — ground cashewnuts can be a tasty soup base, and in some instances, even replace coconut milk.
We then had two types of rice — the white one was cooked with the green Long Jing tea, and the brown rice with Pu Erh tea.
I was curious to know how the Aromatic Crispy Duck with Lychee Black Tea would turn out. Smoked with the tea, there was just a mere hint of it in the duck.
We rolled the duck up in the thinnest pancake, with spring onions, cucumber and lettuce, drizzled with the dark sweet sauce. It tasted light and delicate.
Lunch started on a mild note, but the Stirfried Abalone Mushrooms with Dried Chillies and Lychee Black Tea changed all that.
The deepfried mushrooms tasted almost like meat in a sweet, hot sauce. There were also other mushrooms — button and shiitake — in it, as well as baby corn and carrots. This was when we needed the rice to pair with these spicy and delicious mushrooms.
The flavours of tea were most significant in the Homemade Braised Beancurd in tea sauce (with Dong Ding Oolong tea). The smooth, creamy beancurd was drenched in a yummy sauce of minced chicken fried with a spicy XO sauce.
Best of all there were fried green tea leaves atop the tofu that took you into another flavour dimension.
We came back to another subtle tea main course — the Stirfried Xiao Tang Cai with tea mill (tie guan yin). It had the green vegetables sitting in a creamy and luscious potato sauce, with small cubes of potatoes and fried shallots. Topping the vegetables were finely ground tie guan yin. I loved these vegetables.
For dessert, the Almond Beancurd with Lychee Black Tea was simply marvellous. The fragrant lychee tea and a little rice wine with a squeeze of lime embraced the smooth chunks of sweet almond jelly.
The Deepfried Sweet Potato Balls with mayonnaise and green tea were hard to resist. Made of pure sweet potato, with no sugar added, we enjoyed their aroma and texture. There was no need for the mayonnaise with green tea at all.
The Purple Cane Tea restaurants are all pork-free. The food is reasonably priced, with RM7.90 for each soup, Aromatic Crispy Duck RM20, Braised Beancurd in Tea Sauce RM18, Stirfried Abalone Mushrooms RM18, and the Stirfried Xiao Tang Cai RM15. There is a lot more in the menu we haven’t tried and we will be back.
According to its owners, Malaysia is going to bring tea cuisine to the world, beginning with a restaurant in Melbourne this year, and another one in Jakarta soon.
The Purple Cane Tea Restaurant we visited is located at Lot GL-02, ground floor, Shaw Parade, Changkat Thambi Dollah, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, tel: 03-2145 3090.