Tea time: Reaching Out Tea House, Hoi An

Reaching Out Tea House
131 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An, Vietnam
http://reachingoutvietnam.com/

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We stumbled upon quite a few tea houses in Hoi An, but my favourite was the Reaching Out Tea House. Reaching Out Vietnam started up back in 2010, with the goal of providing opportunities to learn skills and fain employment for people with disabilities.

In Hoi An, they have an arts & crafts shop, where every beautiful piece (and I do mean beautiful) has been created by an artisan with a disability. They also have the tea house, which is the ultimate sanctuary in such a bright and busy city.
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The beautiful space is serene and calm, made even more so by the request that guests communicate in whispers. The staff are all speech and hearing impaired, which makes not the smallest bit of difference in their service. If anything, it’s better than any other tea house I’ve ever visited; they were all so gracious, elegant and accommodating.
Communication really isn’t an issue; once seated, we were given paper menus and pencils so that we could mark our orders and hand them back. That was the easy part – the menu is huge! We also had some spare sheets of blank paper and blocks (see below) which made it even easier – they’ve thought of everything to make both the staff and guests as comfortable as possible.
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In the end, husband settled on a Good Day Coffee (made from specialty-grade Arabica beans grown in Cau Dat, with notes of toffee and cashews). It came out on a beautiful tray in an even more stunning coffee cup, with detailed golden lotus leaves and flowers crawling up its sides. The dainty little gold Vietnamese coffee filter was beautiful, too – if I drank coffee, I’d have gone home with a set! But I don’t, so I left the tasting to husband, and it got a big tick of approval.
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I chose a pot of private production Oolong tea (an organic tea from the Central Highlands with a pale colour and light, floral taste). Again I was blown away by the magnificent tea set, and took a moment to be a dork and just admire it. The tea was fantastic, too – such an easy drinking tea in that climate.
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We also ordered some sweets – husband chose the black sesame cookies (verrryyyy moorish), and I didn’t bother reading past the pandan green tea coconut, which (to my joy) turned out to be thick green tea & pandan flavoured strips of dried coconut. Actual edible heaven!
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My only regret was that we found this too late in the trip to make a return visit – they did tea and coffee tasting trays, which I’d have loved to have gotten involved in! But otherwise, it was perfect. We arrived at dusk, and sitting in this calm, dimly lit haven after a long, chaotic day was exactly what we needed. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you find yourself in Hoi An; good tea and coffee, great people and a wonderful cause to support 🙂
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Photo Journal: Hama-rikyu Gardens, Tokyo

Hama-rikyu Gardens
1-1 Hamarikyuteien, Chuo, Tokyo
Oedo line to Shiodome

I’m a little bit excited to be attending the Japanese Film Festival this evening, so I thought I’d head back to Tokyo this morning to get myself in the right headspace 🙂 After visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market for the first time, my friend pointed out that the Hama-rikyu gardens were a stone’s throw away and looked like they’d be worth a visit. We walked over, paid our ¥300 entry fee (AUD$3.50), and started weaving our way through the stunning grounds.

As the former family residence, garden and hunting grounds of the Tokugawa Shogun, Hama-rikyu also functioned as an outer fort for the Edo Castle. In the mid 1600s, a mansion was built on the land, which had been reclaimed from the sea, and years later the mansion had become a detached residence of the Shogun’s family.

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Years to come saw the grounds sadly damaged by both natural and man-made disasters (namely earthquakes and war), and the land was donated to the City of Tokyo by the Imperial Family towards the end of 1945. Less than a year later, after intense restoration work, it was opened as a public garden, which still entertains a heap of visitors each year; today, let me take you on a tour through it!

One of its most unique features is the sea water ponds that change levels with the tides – the pond is actually the only remaining seawater pond from the Edo era within the city.
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The 300-Year-Pine…
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Hinokuchiyama Hill…
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I didn’t catch what this gate was called, oops…
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The beautiful pine teahouse…
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Nakajima-no-ochaya, an operating tea house on the water…
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O-tsutai-bashi bridge
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And my favourite part – the flower garden 🙂
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Tea time: Aoyama Flower Market Tea House, Tokyo

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House
5-1-2 Minamiaoyama, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.afm-teahouse.com

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Yay Wednesday! I actually really like Wednesday, because it’s generally my work from home day, which means that I can enjoy perks like singing along to my favourite music loudly as I work, walking Marley on my lunch break, and drinking any tea from my extensive collection that I want, all day long! Today’s post is brought to you by tea, by the way…

Being a premature nanna/tea lover, this was by far one of my favourite experiences in Tokyo, and probably one of the first places I’d visit when I go back  : )  But before I tell you about this magical flower and tea haven, let me tell you how I actually got there…

So, there’s Jess, tall (comparatively), auburn-haired, freckled and tattooed foreigner that I am, sticking out like a pink polka-dotted emu on the streets of Tokyo. I’d successfully navigated my way from my hotel in Shinjuku to the Yoyogi Gardens, to the general region of the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House. I knew I was close, but after 10 minutes of wondering the streets, I couldn’t for the life of me find it. I swallowed my pride and approached a young woman around my age to see if she might know where I should be going; she had no idea and apologised profusely. All I could do was smile back – no problem, I’ll keep looking, arigato!

Off I walk, up the road, to complete another circuit in search of the elusive tea house, when I hear “excuse me, miss!” behind me; the English-speaking friend the lady I approached a few minutes earlier was waiting for at the train station had arrived with her elderly mother, and she promptly sent them running up the road after me to help me find the tea house! The young girl and her mother walked me back down the road to the tea house and waved me off, and it absolutely made my day  : )  If there’s one thing I can say with certainly about the wonderful people of Tokyo, it’s that they are the kindest, most generous, friendliest people I’ve ever come across. Even if they can’t speak English too well, they’ll do their absolute best to find a way to help you out anyway!

Finally arriving at the tea house 3 minutes before opening time, I joined the already lengthy cue, and was promptly seated along the communal bench by the window. On the way through, though, I got to take a good look at the stunning flower arrangements, because the Aoyama Flower Market is in fact a florist…

Imagine the most breath-takingly beautiful indoor garden/green house, the most intense colours and floral smells, and the most perfect tea cafe you could possibly imagine, and you’re half way there.

I was seated along the communal table by the window, which was picture perfect, decorated with both the flower of the month (rose) and Halloween inspired miniature pumpkins…

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They even managed to make a witch’s hat and broomstick look elegant and classy!

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After a quick read over the menu (they have menus in both English and Japanese) and weighing up a dozen or so options (herbal, black, green…), I finally decided on a sweeter, dessert-y tea – a black tea with vanilla, caramel and nut flavours. A few minutes after ordering, I was presented with the tea set of my dreams; a big glass tea pot containing an over sized tea bag floating in boiling water, a matching glass tea cup and saucer, a little jug of milk, sugar cubes, a tiny rose and an hour glass – it came with strict instructions to let the hourglass run its course before pouring the tea, so that it was perfectly steeped when I drank it. Wow.

The tea, as expected, was magnificent. And sitting there at the window in the warm mid-morning sun, all alone (and yet surrounded by softly giggling women enjoying tea with their friends), I couldn’t have been more content. It was one of those perfect moments that you know will stick in your mind forever…  : )

After my tea was gone, I made my way out past the pumpkins and roses, and onto the next adventure…

Tea time: The Old Tea Shop, Warburton, Victoria

The Old Tea House
3393 Warburton Hwy, Warburton, Victoria
http://www.theoldteashop.com.au/

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I got a few strange looks from people over the weekend when it was apparent that I was alone. I know that a lot of people can’t think of many things more horrifying than dining alone, but I actually really love it! I find that I’m really happy sitting in a cafe with my tea or meal, and a book or notepad or tablet to do some reading or writing in between bites of food and people watching. No, I’m not on my phone, I’m not texting or checking Facebook, I’m just enjoying MY time. My favourite places to enjoy this time alone are always tea houses, so you can imagine how excited I was when I arrived in Warburton and saw a sign hanging over The Old Tea Shop, boasting over 200 tea blends. And another sign promising not only freshly baked, but gluten free scones! Done deal!

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The Old Tea Shop was the place dreams are made of for premature nannas like me; beautiful tea sets all around, the smell of fresh scones baking, and a wall of tea that stopped me in my tracks. Not only can you take any of the teas home with you (or order online!), you can also select any of the teas on display to enjoy in store (the best way to do this is to open every jar and smell them all). After MUCH deliberation, I decided on a pot of the almond and vanilla black tea, which was incredibly good; just enough almond flavour to know what you were drinking, subtle enough nor to taste funny. I also took home packages of sticky toffee, macadamia and French Earl grey.

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So the teas are fantastic. But let’s talk about the gluten free scones for as moment; can it be done?? Can they honestly, truly be made to be soft and delicate and buttery and delicious if they’re gluten free? In a word, yes. I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t tried them for myself, but the scones here are delicious! While they’re not traditional scones (more like a scone/cupcake hybrid, they are beautiful. Lighter and fluffier than you’d ever believe possible for a gluten free item, they’re the perfect little accompaniment to your pot of tea.

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This is a place that tea lovers in Melbourne should visit; the tea is amazing, both in variety and quality, the service is the friendliest in town, and they cater exceptionally well for special diets! And if you can’t make it down to visit, do yourself a favour and check out the online store!

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