Tea, please!

Nigiro Tea Merchants bring tea culture to Cape Town

That Cape Town is a coffee town, that we know. But where the heck is the tea-culture? Only at the Mount Nelson Hotel’s afternoon tea? This is how I got to know Nigiro Tea Merchants –located at the back of coffee roasters and coffee shop Origin. (Nigiro is Origin spelled backwards.) Owner Joel Singer met tea master, Mingwei Tsai in 2009 and both quickly decided it was time to bring tea to Cape Town, since "Coffee and tea complement each other".

"Coffee and tea are opposite to each other at times. Where coffee is an energetic, loud and extroverted drink, tea is more of an introvert with its beautiful curves and colours." tells me Mingwei Tsai, who is full of tea-passion. "Tea people are soft people and generally have tea-friends. And tea-friends are friends for life." As nothing seems unusual anymore, people want to know the story, the origin and benefit of things, Nigiro is a good spot to dig a bit deeper into the tea-scene.

Cape Town, it’s tea time

Spending some time at Nigiro with tea merchant Nehemia Simons and owner Mingwei Tsai I find out that Nigiro opened in March 2009 and has brought real loose tea to South Africa. They started off with 120 different teas, and today they offer around 200 teas, and there’s still more to come.

Nehemia and I start off with the traditional Chinese way of drinking tea, just like the old folks did, the High Mountain Tea Ceremony on a specially sculptured stone table. The idea: slowing down while forgetting about the outside life and simply enjoying the art of tea. Nigiro is the perfect space for forgetting the outside: there are no windows, Nigiro is a glass box at the back of Origin with calming music, aromas and a soft water feature.

The High Mountain Tea ceremony is definitely an interesting experience for tea-lovers that are interested on how things were done 'back then'. "Wehave adopted the true art of drinking tea according to traditional Chinese and Taiwanese methods, creating a mystical way of preparing tea with the usage of special tea equipment such as the terracotta clay pot, 'aroma' cup and 'drinking' cup. The aim of the ceremony is focused on the senses coupled with calming down from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and allowing the tea to do the talking." says tea merchant Nehemia who has lot’s of tea stories to tell. We have several infusions of the High Mountain Tea and concentrate on the flavour and the fragrance, while exchanging our thoughts.

It is an relaxing process, that’s for sure. The High Mountain Tea we are drinking is a Taiwanese Oolong tea that is grown 2000 feet above sea level (100g of High Mountain Tea cost you R165). Surely, the tea ceremony is also a good way to get your tea lesson. Did you know that Oolong teas are a world of green and black teas wrapped in one?

Water plays a big role at the ceremony, "Water is tranquilising" says Nehemia. Water is used, to warm up the cups, to seal the clay pot and of course, to make the tea. When you enter Nigiro, you step from the coffee world into the tea world via a water feature. "You basically wash your feet." summarises Mingwei.

The quality of tea is in its making

'How can I brew my tea right at home?' is my question. First of all, buy quality tea, Nehemia says and then it’s all about the pot and the water. When the water boils in your kettle, it is round about 100° degrees hot. It depends on the tea, what the right temperature for infusion is, but it’s good to know with each 3-4 minutes, the water temperature drops up to 7° degrees. The clay pots are known as healthy pots for pure teas, and the all-rounder is the glass pot. The best water to use for tea-making is full-bodied spring water, but filtered water will do too.

An absolute 'don’t' for the Nigiro-tea-guys is adding milk and sugar to the tea. "Often it’s a habit. It’s like adding salt and pepper to a meal before even having tasted it." says Mingwei and I decide to rethink my milk in my Earl Grey.

Over 200 teas to choose from

I also learn that there are only 50 acres of rooibos tea in South Africa. "It’s an unique product, not a commodity." says Nehemia who’s mission is to tea-educate people. The top rooibos tea is exported overseas, but here you can try more than 10 different rooibos teas. 

Besides the rooibos tea, the Nigiro teas are sourced from various parts of the world: China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi, Egypt, Turkey, Czech Republic and Greece. Teas on offer areGreen, White, Show Teas, Oolong, Black, Red, Fruit Infusion and Herbal Infusion. "And if we don’t have it, we can probably blend it." assures Mingwei.

An outstanding and popular show tea is the Jasmin Dragon Phoenix Pearls, which is loved by women. The vanilla tea, rose tea as well as the earl grey with blue flowers are popular morning and breakfast black teas. 'Source of happiness', a tea with soft citrus flavours is a calming tea as well as the herbal sundown. If you’re looking for an uplifting tea, try the apple lapacho as well as the strawberry and vanilla rooibos tea. Health freaks, of course, go for the High Mountain Tea.

"Tea is like a museum", says Mingwei. Indeed, there’s so much to see. Tea is a never-ending story.

by Antonia Heil

Nigiro Tea Merchants
28 Hudson Street | De Waterkant | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 421 1000

Opening hours:
Monday – Friday 08:30am – 5pm; Saturday & Sunday 09:00am – 2pm

Prices: tea prices ranging from R25 – R305 per 100g; High Mountain Tea Ceremony from R75pp – R175pp with additional options; other tea tastings from R60 – R145

PS: You can experience Nigiro’s tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel, the One&Only, the Taj, at the wine estates Delaire, Tokara, Waterkloof and many other places.

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Tea drinking culture is changing. Come taste its new flavour at Royaltea Cape Town, a Tuesday treat to share with a friend at this tea special and free tasting of loose-leaf teas from China at Royaltea’s tea tastings.

Cape Town is full of tea stories. We met the tea Lady Bonin and also visited the makers of Red Espresso

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