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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chado - doing it the right way


Melbourne and Sydney are currently under the spell of the "third wave movement" of coffee making. New techniques and new standards are being embraced to evolve coffee drinking into a sensory experience. $40,000 coffee machines are the drawcard for cafés like St Ali or Proud Mary in Melbourne, where a cup of the good stuff could set you back anywhere from $4 to $14 – it's a café revolution.

In Hobart we do things a little bit differently. For 18 months now we have been quietly experiencing a tea revolution.

Chado - The Way of Tea, on the quiet part of Elizabeth Street, Hobart, is an unassuming place. Deceptive in size it offers nothing from the outside that might tempt one in other that the promise of a hot pot of tea and the sounds of the shakuhachi flute drifting from the inside onto the street.

There is an air of tranquillity, most likely feeding of the relaxed nature of the gentle waitresses and the wall to wall tea – for who ever drinks tea if not for the purposes of feeling soothed and relaxed?


It is owned and run by local musician and former bassist of alternative rock band the Violent Femmes, Brian Ritchie, and his wife Varuni Kulasekara. Split over two levels, but mostly using the downstairs space, Chado is a teahouse, not a restaurant. While most of us would go to a restaurant and order a drink with our meal, Chado is the place to order tea with food on the side.

In the menu, one page for lunch, with no more than eight items on offer, and 22 pages of different teas. The booklet reads more like an encyclopaedia than a menu. The tea is listed via country of origin then variety with thorough descriptions on taste, aroma and history. The words "spoilt for choice" are an understatement.

All priced according to rarity and quality, all the teas are brewed at a specific temperature for a prescribed time, then brought to you with further instructions. My companion and I were informed that our tea had been steeping for one minute and thirty seconds, therefore it would need only another 30 seconds before we should poor the whole amount into a second pot so it would not become bitter as we drank. We were also given a small thermos of water (at exactly 85 degrees I was told) to pour into the tealeaf pot when we were ready for more tea, which on this occasion was an Anji Bai Pian (Zhejiang) at $5 per pot, $7 for two people.

The small lunch menu offers two meal varieties, a bento box (a Japanese style lunch box) or donburi (rice bowl). I found the menu written with too little detail, although our waitress happily explained to us what came with our meals beyond written descriptors like Cape Grim beef, grilled salmon, natto (fermented soy beans) or organic silken tofu.

The donburi option is a smaller version of the bento box, and my choice for this particular visit to Chado. Priced at $14.50, a good sized piece of Tasmanian salmon came warm and crisp, marinated in mirin, sake, miso and soy on a bed of sticky, fluffy rice, adorned with chilled (and deliciously slippery) pickled cucumber, mushroom and what I suspect was radish.

Our meals were prepared for us by Tetsuya trained chef Luke Burgess, on the last few days of a month long guest appearance in the Chado kitchen, who was brought on board to help streamline the back of house.

In Luke's month long secondment, he stripped back the menu to eliminate long wait times for meals, training Varuni and two young staff members to fill his position after his departure. Time will tell if his kitchen legacy leaves a lasting impression.

Varuni and Brian are considering opening for two nights a week during the autumn season for dinner, and with the addition of a liquor license would serve sake with a slightly modified dinner menu. I would personally love to see shabu shabu (Japanese-style hot pot) cooked on the tables and washed down with a lot of cold Sapporo beer. But I do like to dream.

Chado is not just a lunch space, but also a retail outlet. Brian and Varuni regularly travel through Asia sourcing teas and their assorted paraphernalia. We "seat shopped" (a bit like window shopping but from your chair) for hand made tea pots from China and Japan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan while we ate, and before long had convinced ourselves that the purchase of new tea sets would be compulsory. How had we ever lived without them prior?

All of the teas are available to purchase by weight, each coming with instructions on the correct brewing temperature and time (it's enough to make you want to buy a kettle that boil water at five different temperatures). A number of local restaurants and cafes also purchase Chado tea to serve in their venues including Pigeon Hole in West Hobart, Morilla Chalets, the Islington Hotel and Chicchio in Salamanca.

After a year and a half on the Hobart scene Chado seems to be making some definite improvements. They are certainly trailblazers (in Tasmania at least), offering a truly unique experience for Hobartians and our many visitors. I'm looking forward to seeing this business expand and assimilate itself further into the Hobart lifestyle, and in the mean time I'm off to buy a very fancy kettle. What temperature does water boil at again?

Chado – The Way of Tea
134 Elizabeth St
Phone: (03) 6231 6411

Open Tue-Fri 10am until 5pm

1 comment:

Hazel said...

Nice review, have been meaning to go for a while, now I have some more incentive.