We meet Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung and Wai Ting Chung, the founders of Xu Teahouse situated in London's Soho, to find out about the inspiration behind the teahouse and the uniqueness of Taiwanese tea.
What are the roots and inspirations behind XU teahouse? Where did XU begin?
We wanted to create a unique experience that takes inspiration from the social dining clubs of 1930's Taipei and reflects our own stories of Asian culture. The hope is that when guests enter the teahouse, they feel as though they have been transported to somewhere other, far away from the hustle and bustle of Soho. At the back of the teahouse are secret Mahjong rooms for guests to discover, each covered in hand painted murals and hidden by green velvet curtains.
Can you tell us a little about the traditions and heritage of Taiwanese cuisine?
Taiwanese cuisine itself is a melting pot of different cuisines, from Taiwanese and Aboriginal to mainland Chinese and Japanese influences, as a result of immigration. As Taiwan is an island, it has access to fantastic seafood, which is why delicious fish feature heavily in its cuisine.
Taiwan is famous for the street food scenes, where each xiao chi house offers only a few or only one product - making them specialists in this dish. Traditionally there is also a banquet culture, in which tea is shared by families and neighbours for celebrations.
Many immigrants travelled from China in the early 1900s, settling in Taiwan. This added to the cuisine, with influences from Shanghai, Sichuan, Hunan, Fujian and more. Examples of Chinese dishes are Xiao Long bao, Beef noodles, and Mala Hot pots. More local Taiwanese cuisine such as braised pork Gua bao, Oyster Omelette and Lu Rou Fan originated from Taiwan.
Can you tell us a little about the types of Taiwanese tea?
Due to its geography, humidity and mountainous terrain, the climate is great for growing tea. Migrants from the Fujian area of China brought over tea plants and tea making skills to Taiwan, around 200 years ago. The majority of the tea exports from Taiwan are Bao Zhong and Oolongs, which are partially fermented tea. Bao Zhong tea is heavily featured at XU and it is one of our all time favourites. It is lightly oxidised, making it closer to green teas and has a much greener appearance; it is smooth and fragrant, and the aroma often reminiscent of narcissus, and lily of the valley, bringing you right back to the hills of Taipei.
On the other side, you can roast Oolong at different levels to produce different grades of tea such as the famous high mountain Ali Shan tea, Oriental beauty tea, or Roast aged Oolong. All have diverse characters to each other: high mountain tea is very delicate; Oriental beauty has the appearance and strength of a black tea but also has the complex fragrance of an oolong; Roasted aged Oolong is often dried over charcoal and tastes smoky and mellow. It's always surprising how diverse Taiwanese Oolong can be.
What does Taiwanese tea culture mean to you all?
When you go into a teahouse in Taiwan, you'll more often than not find a man sitting there with a heap of tea leaves that have been used. Making tea is constantly taking place. Tea is integral to our culture and we wanted to translate this into the restaurant. We also want to highlight the high quality teas that we import from Taiwan some of which are rarely available outside of the country, so we're very proud to be sharing them here in London.
From where does the restaurant take its name?
It is named after Erchen's (pictured centre) late grandfather, Xu Peng Fei, and tells the story of XU as a characteristic man, a journalist and tea lover that travelled to Taipei in the 1930s. He was a tea devotee and after he'd dropped Erchen off at school he would drink cup after cup in Taipei tea house to count down the hours before picking his granddaughter up again. The aesthetics are reminiscent of the social clubs that Erchen's late grandfather used to frequent and reflects Erchen's memories of their time together.
Xu Teahouse can be found at 30 Rupert St, Soho, W1D 6DL.