[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]t was there on the table when Xi Jinping visited Emmanuel Macron in Paris. And currently, it can be found only at Michelin three-star establishment Pierre Gagnaire, luxury Parisian pastry shop Jacques Genin, and Shang Palace at the Shangri-la Hotel in the French capital. We are talking about a special collection of tea ware by heritage French porcelain brand Legle, best known for creating custom collections for chefs such as Paul Pairet, Julien Royer and Umberto Bombana.
It is probably the most exclusive production tea ware in the market, given its very selective clientele, but that is not what makes it special.
The Aroma collection is the world’s first tea gastronomy solution that is purpose-built to bring out the best in different types of tea. It goes beyond offering differently shaped drinking vessels – even the teapots are designed to facilitate brewing a perfect cup.
“Traditional Chinese tea ware are like precision vehicles that can only be operated by a Chinese master well-versed in the art of tea. What we have created is a system that allows even those who are not so familiar with oriental tea culture to confidently brew and serve tea,” says Desmond Chang, Legle’s Taiwan-based CEO and creative director.
“People put a lot of time and energy into serving a bottle of wine…but, with tea, it is very vague. Most people think that tea should be brewed with water at 100 deg C. But at that temperature, green tea, for example, will be burnt, its sweetness lost, leaving only bitterness,” reveals Chang. “But how do you ensure that a green tea is brewed at 70 degrees, a Pu-erh at 85, or an oolong at 90? Especially when service staff are already time-strapped?”
So the tea-lover embarked on a mission with Paris-based tea master Tseng Yu Hui – whose adulating fan base includes top chefs and sommeliers who have worked with her to devise pairings – to create the Aroma collection.
The result after some four years of research and revision: four Expert teapots and five Perfection tea cups. At the base of three of the Expert teapots – each in a shape inspired by traditional brewing vessels – is a convex dome that cleverly marks the level to which room-temperature water should be added before filling the pot with boiling water. This ensures that the water temperature is appropriately adjusted for the teas that each pot is meant for: green, white, yellow and lightly fermented oolong tea for the Expert 70; Pu-erh and first flush Darjeeling for the Expert 85; medium fermented oolong and red tea for the Expert 90; and black teas such as deep-roasted oolong and aged Pu-erh for the Expert 100. Every detail is considered to ensure an optimal temperature is achieved. “For example, the 70 has the thinnest wall – just 1.8mm in thickness. This allows quick heat dissipation – so even if you screw up and the temperature is higher than optimal, the infusion can still cool down rapidly,” details Chang.
Similarly, the cups are purpose-built. “The Perfection 85/90 is for aromatic teas like a semi-fermented Tie Guanyin that is roasted and dried with charcoal, and has a lot of smoky aroma and deep umami. It is flared at the mouth, and designed to guide the user to take in the perfume before drinking. The 100 is for black teas that are not so much aroma as flavour, and how it warms the body from the inside – strong Pu-erhs were used as a cure to indigestion on the Silk Route. The conical shape encourages you drink the tea straight up and enjoy the sensation,” says Chang. Each cup holds between 135ml and 170ml of tea – about three sips – and you are meant to refill it with fresh tea after, so that you enjoy the beverage only at its peak.
Chang admits to spending so much time perfecting the collection that he wanted nothing to do with it when it was finally produced late last year. But for a product range that he is so personally invested in, he is rather nonchalant about sales: “How many tea pots can we sell? What do I care?”
He has a bigger mission. “The world today is all about intense sensations: faster, bigger, bolder… I believe that a good cup of tea can move people to experience a bit of calmness.”