When you think about retreating to a quiet spot for a cup of tea, you probably don’t picture The Star Sydney.
It’s not the kind of place you go for a cuppa. A cocktail? Certainly. A cup of tea? Not so much. But The Star Sydney’s tea house by day, gin bar by night venue, G&Tea, takes its tea, and the calming experience of drinking it, very seriously.
“We try to bring the outside in,” says hotel services manager Julie Ann Pooley. “Because we’re located in the lobby of The Star Grand, we wanted to create a space that is serene and perfect for tea drinking. The LED screens that run along the feature wall show sunrises and sunsets as well as the Australian rainforest.” Frogs jump and birds fly across the screen, and the images are paired with the sounds of ribbits and tweets to create a multisensorial experience that makes you feel truly immersed in the calmness of a rain forest.
Just as the team at G&Tea are dedicated to creating the perfect space for drinking tea, they’re equally committed to serving the perfect cuppa to every guest. “We steampunk a selection of our teas,” Pooley says. “Steampunking uses a steam boiler and computer to control a wide range of specific parameters, such as water temperature, agitation and pressure, as well as three grades of metal filters to reproduce a range of brewing methods. As a result, you get a perfect cup of tea, every time.”
There’s also a tea master on hand to perform the ancient Chinese gongfu tea ceremony for guests. Jingxing Gao, G&Tea tea master, has inherited all her knowledge of tea from her father, who owns a tea house in China. “The term gongfu literally means ‘making tea with skill,’” Gao says. “This kind of tea ceremony originated in Fujian and the Chaoshan area of eastern Guangdong. Today, gongfu is popularly used by tea shops carrying tea that originates from China as a way to maximise the taste of the finer teas.”
“Yellow Gold Tea Buds are extremely rare and the only place in Australia you can try them is at G&Tea”
There are 21 steps that make up the gongfu tea ceremony, all of which are performed in front of you. It begins with burning incense to create and appreciate a beautiful setting for tea drinking and finishes with guests sipping on tea feeling refreshed and relaxed. The teas used for this ritual are G&Tea’s finest.
For those with the urge to splurge, there’s the 24-karat Yellow Gold Tea Buds. Harvested on only one mountain, on one day per year, with gold scissors and only from the top of the tree, Yellow Gold Tea Buds are extremely rare – G&Tea is the only place in Australia you can try them. Each tea leaf is painted with 24-karat gold flakes, which in Asia is believed to be for good health.
If you’re not keen on spending $120 on the Yellow Gold Tea Buds, there’s something for every price point. You’ll find 26 teas stretching from the classic blends section through to Chinese teas and herbal varieties.
Tea is weaved through every aspect of G&Tea. The day menu lists light bites like smoked ham hock rilette, gruyere de comte, tea poached egg, ciabatta; and tea smoked free-range chicken breast, sautéed kale, anchovy emulsion, rye bread sandwiches. At around dusk each day, the environment, with the help of digital panels lining the venue, turns from sun-drenched to twilight, the menus are flipped over from the blush pink (day) side to the emerald green (night) side, and the golden door opens to reveal gin bottles behind the bar. But even as the tea house transforms into a sleek cocktail bar with gin as the hero, tea is still on the menu, albeit spruced up a little. Along with Australia’s finest gin – from classic gin and tonics to new fusions like gin spritz – you can also find tea-inspired cocktails – labelled ‘tea-tails’ – on the menu, like the green tea mojito and tea tini with jing green apple hibiscus tea, vermouth and lemon peel.
“Gin is such a fashionable drink at the moment,” Pooley says. “Teas have always been used in cocktails, like coffee, however there are very few bars that are brave enough to marry gin and tea together. Our guests are really open to new ideas and they embraced this marriage.”
It’s G&Tea’s luck that gin and tea are a match made in heaven.