We’ve all had a taster menu paired with different wines, but who’s had one paired with different teas? I certainly hadn’t and, from what creator Julia Leimala told me, neither have most of the world.
On what was planned to be just another standard trip to KL, I was invited by a friend to join him for the opening night of one of his friend’s latest creations, a vintage tea collaboration dinner at Copper.
Julia prides herself on having drunk more than 30,000 cups of tea and realised that, like wine, tea makes for a great accompaniment to food. In what was quite possibly the first dinner of its kind anywhere in the world, Julia and head chef Chai created an inspired menu of fine local cuisine, each course perfectly complimented with a vintage tea sourced from around Asia.
As we settled into out seats, any fears of how exactly one drinks tea with fine food (do I just take a bite and then a gulp of tea like I do with a sandwich?) were allayed by Julia’s team and a ‘how to eat guide’ was helpfully found underneath the menu.
We started off with a cherry gazpacho with oysters, burrata, fennel and snow peas which was served with cold brew Taiwanese Honey Black tea. Yeah, cold soup, cold tea. I had no idea what to expect (what is burrata? I still couldn’t tell you) so went along with the suggested eating method. Into my mouth went the gazpacho and there it sat, my mouth trying to get a flavour of it without actually swallowing. Then, I reached for the tea to let it go join in. The mixture of one cold liquid with another, at first, was rather underwhelming… but then it hit. The mixture of the two flavours became a third – much like the bubble gum meal in Charlie and the Chocolate factory. How did that just happen?!
So I went again – Soup. Hold. Tea. Mix – wow. Looking round at the faces of my fellow diners, they were experiencing much the same sense of amazement. On to the next course, Salt Beef and Mushroom Ala Jillo – sour cream, parsley oil & grilled sourdough toast. Time to build an open sandwich. Onto the bread went the sour cream, pile on the beef and mushrooms take one careful bite and admire the flavours which Michelin experienced head chef Chai (yes, really Chai) had created. Take the ripe Pu-Eh tea carefully selected by Julia and add to the party. Woosh! Straight away the tea parted the spice of the beef and mushrooms to the sides of my mouth which let the cool sour cream soothe my tongue. Moments later, the spice returned to the middle but this time mellowed and relaxed, teeing my up for the next mouthful.
A basil and lime sorbet followed and then wild caught sea bass, Australian lamb rump and lychee jelly completed the main part of the menu. Each dish worked its own magic with the tea combining in totally different ways. The tangy citrus in the orange confit with the sea bass zinged excitedly on the tongue whilst the crunch of the Long Jing ice with the lychee jelly brought a textured and smooth introduction to the deserts.
Here, it took quite a homely turn, a plate of freshly fried churros with a selection of dips – dark chocolate, dulce de leche and creme chantilly, and three different teas Taiwanese Oolong, Taiwanese Honey Black and Oriental Beauty. Like kids in the proverbial sweet shop, we set about attacking each dip with the hot churros and then mixing them up with each tea. Anyone who likes a biscuit or cake with a cup of tea will know how well the mix of tea and sweetness goes and this took that feeling to another level.
Our last treat for the evening was a chocolate mouse with a parmesan and sea salt crisp. Take in the chocolate and parmesan and hold it there. Oh, that gorgeous deep rich sweetness! Then, take in your tea for the last time. The chocolate seemed to thin out completely, leaving behind the salty cheesiness of the crisp on my tongue. However, the beauty of this dish was in the next spoonful… with that lingering salty flavour, the influx of chocolate mouse seemed to be even more intense than the first time round. Just spectacular.
The whole experience is one I won’t forget for a very long time. If I’m honest, I was sceptical at the start but the attention to detail and time that Julia and the team put into creating this menu really was worth every effort.
If you’d like to know more about vintage teas and further dinners like this, follow Julia on Instagram