You get tarot with your tea at Biku on Bali

I don’t know if Biku Tea lounge on Bali is busy every day, but they were turning people away the day we pitched up hoping to go for their mystical high tea. We got lucky with a table for two, though sadly the tarot card reader was fully booked that day, so we didn’t get a chance to hear her predictions on our future beyond The Road.

Inside Biku tea room in Seminyak, Bali

We took a taxi out to Biku from central Denpasar, though the district it’s in – Seminyak – is full of western tourists and the beach is not too far away, so Biku may well be within walking distance for many holiday makers on Bali.

Biku tea room on Bali

We’d come here on recommendation from the tea-loving community in Jakarta, because Biku is another of those rare tea shops in Indonesia that serves up tea grown and produced locally.

There’s certainly a great range of teas on the menu, with black, green and oolong teas grown on Java, and more Indonesian tea in their basic breakfast blend (even the Assam is likely to have been grown in Indonesia, after the Assam tea plant was introduced to the islands in the 19th century). They also have some imported teas, all carefully managed by Tjok Gde Kerthyasa, a tea master himself who’s based in Bali, but is connected to the wonderful Sydney-based Tea Craft (which I must try to visit soon).

Indonesian tea on the menu at Biku Tea Lounge on Bali

So the tea menu at Biku was exciting enough.

The afternoon tea (or High Tea) menu even more so. We have both loved it when tea houses in South East Asia offer both a ‘traditional’ western afternoon tea (with scones, jam and cream etc) and an eastern or local version.

So it is with Biku, and as an added bonus, if you go for the Asian High Tea, you get it served on wonderful cups and dishes with elephant motifs and simple, clear decoration (whereas the tableware for the western afternoon tea is very colonial and floral).

Elephant motifs on the Asian Tea plates at Biku

Floral plates for the western afternoon tea at Biku

The savoury side of the Asian High Tea is interesting, with samosas, spring rolls and curried egg sandwiches. But the sweet part was even more exotic, with date scones served with mango jam, a sticky rice sweet filled with peanut paste and a wonderful fruit called salak. So the Asian Tea is our top tip if you go to Biku, especially if you’re a visitor.

Asian High Tea in Seminyak at Biku

Hey, when else are you going to get an afternoon tea like that? Oh, and make sure you book ahead if you want that tarot card reading. The ‘Mystical High Tea’ is served from 1-5pm, but the resident card reader is in demand so she’s probably very good. And I don’t think she reads the tea leaves…

Traditional western afternoon tea on Bali at Biku

This was a great way to end our journey from Yorkshire with a slap-up afternoon tea, and lots of local flavour.

It’s the 42nd tea room we will be reviewing across the 25 countries of our journey (there were 66 coffee shops, suggesting coffee has been easier to find, though there’s a blog entry in that discussion, since most tea places in China were not really tea rooms in the western sense of the word so can’t be reviewed as an afternoon tea experience).

Amazingly, with all the tea, coffee and cake consumed over 17 weeks of this journey, I lost 5 kilos, but that’s more to do with the efforts of carrying heavy luggage, the miles we walked finding the coffee shops and tea rooms, and the heat we encountered in most of the countries.

So, thanks to Biku, you rounded off this epic journey beautifully, and just in time for us to get to the airport for our night flight to Australia.

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There’s more to tea in Singapore than a trip to Raffles

We couldn’t resist a visit to Raffles in Singapore, not for a Singapore Sling, but for Afternoon Tea. With only 24 hours in the city, though, that meant we didn’t get to revisit the wonderful Tea Chapter in Neil Road for a Chinese tea experience (you’ll have to see the Fancy a Cuppa blog entry for our views on that).

It also meant we didn’t manage to get to Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar, which is out by Robertsons Quay and looked really hard to get to on public transport in the time we had. That was a shame and it goes top of our list for next time we’re in Singapore, because its concept reminded me of the wonderful Bean & Bud in Harrogate for its focus on both coffee and tea…

So for this trip, it was Raffles and only Raffles.

We quickly found out that the done thing for afternoon tea at Raffles is to reserve a table, as elegantly-dressed couples and groups sailed past us into the tea room, while we were asked to wait.

In fact, we were told, it would be 45 minutes before a table was free and, they added, with local taxes and service added (the so-called plus-plus), our afternoon tea would come to some £50 a head (as if that would put us off, when we’d travelled so far…).

Fountain in grounds of Raffles in Singapore

So, we sat and waited in the sultry, but leafy grounds of the hotel and watched people coming and going, some dashing by on their way to their (presumably reserved) tea, others just coming in for a selfie in this hotel of all hotels in Singapore.

In the grounds of Raffles, Singapore

Some of the Trip Advisor and Google reviews of afternoon tea at Raffles do speak of the confusion over just what afternoon tea consists of, what you are obliged to have, and how much it all costs. Some even say they were forced to have the champagne tea, taking the price way over what we had been quoted.

There was never any question of champagne for us (maybe we just didn’t look the champers types), but when they came to serve us and spoke of the eat-all-you-can buffet in the other room, with spring rolls, fruit and other delights, we told them we actually just wanted a regular tiered tray afternoon tea with a pot of tea of our choice. Was that possible?

Indeed it was, they said, and that would cost us less than the initially quoted about £100 for two, coming in at nearer £30 a head…

Slightly bemused by the pricing system, we sat and waited for our tea to arrive, taking in the atmosphere. We enjoyed the old colonial feel and the notice that spoke of this (the Tiffin) dining room having been the best ‘east of Suez’, though there’s something about the stuffiness of those exclusive colonial hang-outs and the fawning nature of the service in them that would put us off going too often.

Afternoon tea at Raffles in Singapore

Actually, the afternoon tea was quite generous (five little sandwiches each, macaroons, little pastries, mince pies – being near Christmas), with a quality pot of tea (Darjeeling for me, English Breakfast for Anita), and a delightful harpist strumming away in the background.

Cream and jam without scones for afternoon tea at Raffles in Singapore

The mystery, though, were the dishes of clotted cream and jam that sat untouched on the table next to the tiered tray. Untouched because…there were no scones to spread them on.

I ventured over to the waiter to ask whether there were scones, since we had jam and cream. Oh no, they’re on the buffet, we were told, along with the spring rolls and the fruit…

Hmmm. I’m not sure what the Colonel and his wife would have made of that in colonial days, but we smiled to ourselves and made do without, only for the waiter to appear suddenly with a plate of four scones for us, thrown in gratis, I think because by this time they were at the end of the afternoon tea time and most people were turning to Singapore Slings.

Still, I can confirm that the cream and jam are very tasty, and the scones good quality. It just seems bizarre that they are part of the full buffet rather than the tiered tray of afternoon tea. Ah well, when in Singapore…

To be fair to the staff, as the afternoon came to an end, and we were virtually the last tea drinkers left, they did become a lot more relaxed and friendly. I just wish we could get away from the stiff formality of such elegant places. They could learn a thing or two from our favourite posh afternoon tea place in London: the Palm Court tea room in Piccadilly somehow manage that great service, with elegance and friendliness rather than starchiness…

RafflesEastIndia

And one final gripe about Raffles. I know it’s the tropics and you can’t really avoid them, but the tea room was abuzz with flies, mostly quite small, but somewhat disconcerting as they wander over your sarnies or macaroons before you take a bite.

Other than that, it was a beautiful afternoon and actually well worth the cost. So a hearty thumbs up from us for afternoon tea in Singapore at Raffles. There is more to tea in Singapore than Raffles, but at least once in your life, do give it a go.

Coffee culture and designer tea in Kuala Lumpur

We travelled right across Kuala Lumpur in search of good coffee and tea. Most of it we managed on the rather good local transport system, using a combination of buses, monorail and the light railway, though we did opt for taxis to get home from both our favourite coffee shop and tea room.

We found The Brew Culture by chance, mind you. We caught the 83 bus from KL Sentral up to the Plaza Damas part of town and felt quite smug to have found our way so far from the centre of town. But we’d gone there in search of a coffee shop that has actually closed down (the owner, a former Malaysian barista champ, has transferred to Johor Bahru, where he opened a new venue shortly after we got that far south – check out Atlas Coffee Embassy if you’re interested in tracking him down).

The Brew Culture for coffee in Kuala Lumpur

Plaza Damas is a massive shopping mall on both sides of the main road and there are countless cafes, but Brew Culture stared down at us as we got off the bus so we decided to give it a go. And very glad we were that we did…

Best coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur?

What we liked about the guys who run this place is their enthusiasm and passion for what they do (it seems they gained their love of coffee when living in America and/or Australia, and wanted to bring something similar home).

Their basic espresso blend for our visit included Indonesian, Bolivian and Salvadorean, but if you went for the hand brewed coffees, you could choose from a number of other options, including a delicious sounding Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia.

Cake and coffee in Kuala Lumpur at The Brew Culture

It’s the kind of coffee shop where you can choose to sit on stools at the window watching the world drive by on the main street, get your laptop out and spend a few hours working, loll around in comfy sofas, or sit near the bar and chat to the baristas (owners).

Inside The Brew Culture coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur

It was when we were swapping stories with the owners that we got talking to another customer by the name of Ony and ended up with a rendez vous for later in the week further south in Malaysia (that’s the great thing about coffee connections, they always seem to lead to other new experiences, but more on that in the blog to come…).

BrewedShelves

For coffee in Kuala Lumpur, we’d recommend getting on that bus to Brew Culture. The guys there did recommend somewhere more central, but we had a less positive experience there, which will lead to another blog entry later, around some of the issues that can crop up in coffee shops, so we’ll save that story for then rather than naming the other place in a negative entry).

When the guys at Brew Culture heard that we also review teas, they insisted we try their range of flower teas. The chrysanthemum tea was almost as good as their coffee, so if tea is your tipple, get yourself to Brew Culture anyway!

Chrysanthemum tea at The Brew Culture in Kuala Lumpur

But for great quality tea in Kuala Lumpur, we’d actually recommend a trip to the opposite end of town. The Tea Republic has an extraordinary range of teas from some of the big international tea suppliers (Ronnefeldt, Jing Tea, Koala Tea, and some Japanese and Canadian companies we hadn’t come across before).

Great tea in Kuala Lumpur at The Tea Republic

They have nine signature teas (Ceylon breakfast, Earl Grey with cornflowers, a puer-based tea, an oolong, a white tea, a gunpowder, and then the ones we wouldn’t normally choose: mint, chamomile, roiboos and fruit) and if you go for the High Tea, then for about £4 (UK) you get a pot of tea, a cake and a tray of sandwiches – so it’s great value, too.

Great place for afternoon tea in Kuala Lumpur

We loved this place for its simplicity but also its quality. It sits in the corner of a fairly plush looking shopping mall in a more affluent part of KL (Bangsar shopping centre NOT Bangsar village!), but there was no sign of any airs and graces that sometimes go with such circumstances; the staff were friendly and open to chat with us about the teas and the background to the tea room.

The owner, we found out, is an architect, but tea is her passion and The Tea Republic her big project that takes her beyond the world of architecture. But it’s funny how often coffee and tea shop owners’ past or other careers find an outlet in their new ventures: if you look at the design for the name of this tea room as you enter the place, you can see the architect’s style in the layout and feel.

The Tea Republic tea room in Kuala Lumpur

Good luck to these guys, and keep serving up great afternoon tea to the people of Kuala Lumpur. This place is open every day from 9am to 9pm, so you have lots of opportunity to get over there for an excellent cuppa.

Oh, and don’t miss the Victoria Sandwich – a real treat that tasted almost as good as cake at home in Yorkshire…

Victoria Sponge with tea in Kuala Lumpur

A very special tea room in Bangkok

Bangkok may not be famous for its tea rooms, but that will soon change if flower enthusiast Sakul Intakul has anything to do with it. Our trip to his Salon du Thé gave us one of the most extraordinary afternoon tea experiences I have ever had.

And from April or May 2015, Sakul has plans to make this tea room even more special, but more on that at the end of this blog.

The Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok is probably not the most frequently visited tourist destination at the moment. It is some way off the beaten track to the north of the city centre, and the tuk tuk we picked up from the ferry stop hadn’t heard of it, so struggled to find his way there.

If you’re heading there – and we thoroughly recommend it to any visitor to Bangkok – get off the ferry at Payap station and take a tuk tuk to Samsen Road, Soi 28. The museum is actually signposted once you get nearby, so isn’t that hard to find.

Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok

The museum is housed in a wonderful three-storey colonial building, set in beautiful gardens, with butterflies, exotic birds, and even a sugar baby flitting from branch to branch as we sipped our tea.

Orchid growing at the Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok

The whole place has a floral theme and is the brainchild of Sakul Intakul, surely one of Thailand’s foremost experts and author on tropical flowers.

FloralFlowers

He has designed an afternoon tea, where everything you consume has come from the flowers he loves.

Tea in Bangkok at the Museum of Floral Culture

The teas on offer include one made from Vietnamese lotus, several rose-based concoctions and the one we chose, which was a Thai flower (but I can’t decipher my notes to read what it was called!).

Sweet nibbles for afternoon tea in Bangkok

The sweet nibbles you get with your pot of tea are also flower – or at least plant – based: there’s lots of coconut in them, but also a range of Thai flowers we’d never heard of, cardamon from India and other creations using flowers from Japan or China.

It was really the most extraordinary afternoon tea I have ever tasted.

FloralVerandah

With Sakut’s plans to develop his venue, the menu will change slightly, but the tea selection and the basic format should remain the same.

You see, his big idea is to build a new conservatory in the middle of the gardens, with a Japanese bridge to link it back to the museum house. Inside he will serve up what he hopes will be Bangkok’s most exclusive high tea, with a maximum of 16 guests a day and one table set aside for lovers (He’s a bit of a romantic at heart).

Our only hesitation in giving this our wholehearted backing is that the prices will double. But I guess he needs to work out which way to make ends meet for a business he is clearly passionate about. And for western visitors – or for the local celebrities he currently has as customers – the £10 price tag should not be a disincentive.

We can’t wait to get back to Bangkok later in 2015 to try out the new Salon!

If you really can’t manage the trek up to that part of town, but still want a good tea in  pleasant surroundings, you might want to try Elysian Teas, which was not far from a lot of the embassies in Bangkok in Sukhumvit.

Elysian Tea House in Bangkok

They have three rooms: one is an air conditioned space set out in oriental style with low chairs to sit on or pouffes, or indeed mats if you like to sit cross-legged for your cuppa; you can go out into the garden if you like the heat and the flow of air; or onto the terrace, which is somewhere in between the two.

Inside Elysian Tea House in Bangkok

They have 30 or so teas on the menu, and you are invited to sniff as many as you like before choosing, as they bring round a basket full of small jars of each tea to give you an idea of what you’re about to order.

Basket of tea samples in Elysian Teas in Bangkok

It’s a nice concept, very simply done, but it’s not really a full afternoon tea kind of place. Their food selection is based around mainly French-style patisseries with the increasingly popular macaroons (called macarons for some reason …), taking pride of place in the display units.

ElysianTeas

So if you’re needing a good place for tea in the heart of Bangkok, Elysian Tea House just might be the one for you.

I’d still recommend you get in that river ferry and find your way to the Floral Museum, though. Or, hey, do both as we did.

Great tea in Saigon but coffee is a bit all over the place

We didn’t really know what to make of Saigon. We didn’t even know what to call it, or whether the name you give the place has political or social connotations like Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

And it was hard to gauge the coffee scene there, too. There’s an excellent overview of cafés in the city by a blogger called Vietnam Coracle, though many of them are so hidden away that we tried and failed to find them.

http://vietnamcoracle.com/best-hidden-cafes-saigon/

We did manage to find this old block of flats that has now been largely converted into retail spaces for cafés and vintage clothes shops, although some apartments are clearly still occupied as residences, and one old woman frantically pointed towards the cafes as soon as she saw us.

Arty cafes now mix with old homes in this Saigon apartment block

I loved the idea of using such rundown residential blocks and giving them a new lease of life, but the cafés we found here were a mixed bunch, with more focus apparently on appearances than on the quality of the coffee.

Of all the venues in that particular block, we liked best of all a café called Things. Mind you, it was possibly the hardest one to find, being right up at the top of the block, round several corners and up some more steps to get to the virtually unmarked front door.

The path to Things Cafe in Saigon

But inside, it felt like being in someone’s home – which it may well have been (it was just quite hard to tell). The coffee was good, here, though, which is why it gets our vote, and the welcome was warm.

Inside Things Cafe in Saigon

Funnily enough, inside this whole building, Twitter seemed to be blocked, suggesting that the authorities are also uncertain what to make of the ‘alternative’ scene growing in here: from our brief visit, though, it seemed very far from being a hotbed of radical seditious thinking and the owners of Things spent the whole time we were there messing about on Facebook…

Coffee at Things Cafe in Saigon

The address of that block of flats, by the way: Ton That Dam 14, in District 1.

There are a couple of cafés mentioned on the Vietnam Coracle blog in another street, which we walked up and down twice before giving up on finding them (Ngo Thori Nhiem, in case you want to give them a go yourselves).

But at the start of the same street (77 Ngo Thori Nhiem, to be exact), we did find Moc Coffee, which seemed much like the kind of coffee shop we had found in Hanoi, with customers spilling out onto the pavement, and a good cup of Vietnamese Coffee on offer.

Spilling out onto the pavement by Moc Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City

We liked this place, especially as Mrs Cuppa got a phone call while we were there, with some very very good news. So for coffee in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), we’d recommend a trip to Moc Coffee.

Moc Coffee in Saigon

We did manage to find Tram Café, another recommended by Vietnam Coracle.

The hidden garden at Tram Cafe in Saigon

This is certainly easier to find, with a flashing neon sign out in the street (Tran Huy Lieu). And it’s set in absolutely stunning gardens, with fountains and fish, a stepping stone walkway to the inside area, and a beautiful dimly-lit interior, the kind of place you’d go for a casual first date in Saigon, I’d say.

Tram Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City

It is more of a restaurant than a coffee shop, though, so although we loved the place, it’s probably not a venue we’ll add to our reviews when we post them. However, if you’re in Saigon and want somewhere different for a good lunch, this is the place to visit.

And finally, tea in Saigon.

RoyalTeaWord

Vietnam has much more of a focus on coffee than tea. But the Royal Tea House in Pham Ngoc Thach Street was one of the nicest tea rooms we had visited for some time.

Royal Tea House in Saigon

The Tiendat family has been in tea in Vietnam since 1956, so they must have seen a fair few changes in that time, and there’s surely a book to be written on their experiences as they went from post-colonial tea family to the struggles of war with America and then carrying on through the post-war Communist regime.

We didn’t get a chance to ask owner Krystal many questions, though she did take the time to talk us through some of the teas her family has produced, and would probably have been open to a longer chat if we’d had time.

Best tea in Saigon at Royal Tea House

But you can feel her passion for the tea that runs in her family and her pride in the tea room she has set up not far from central Saigon.

We loved this place as a cool haven away from Saigon’s stressful streets.

And with their rather nice coconut mini cakes it felt about as close to a traditional afternoon tea as we’d seen in quite a few weeks.

RoyalTeaFrontName

So our top tip for tea in Saigon has to be Royal Tea House. And if you like the tea as much as we did, you may be tempted to buy a packet; they produce black and green teas on the family plantation in Dalat, and they source other teas on the menu from Taiwan and China.

So, we’re pretty sure we found the best place for afternoon tea in Saigon.

But on the coffee side of things, Saigon remained a bit of a mystery, as it did in general to be honest. We probably missed its hidden gems, but they remained so hidden that we’re not even sure we’ll rush to go back and find them…

Touristy tea and coffee in Hoi An

I’m sure there’s lots more to Hoi An than the touristy historic centre, but as we found in Safranbolu, Turkey, it can be nice just to spend all your time enjoying the feel of an old town, and we are after all tourists, at least in the locals’ eyes.

Hoi An in Vietnam

So, in Hoi An we didn’t probe what locals do for coffee and tea, especially as we found an excellent coffee shop and very interesting tea room right in the heart of the old town.

Mia Coffee is the place to go for top quality coffee in Hoi An.

Mia Coffee in Hoi An

After adjusting our palate to the traditional Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi and Sapa, it was rather nice to go back to cappuccino at Mia Coffee. And these guys know what they’re doing.

Coffee from Dalat Highlands in Mia Coffee

They source their coffee from Vietnam’s Dalat Highlands (if we’d know about that area, we’d surely have gone, because they also grow tea there); it’s Arabica beans they use, which busts the myth that Vietnamese coffee is all robusta; and they roast it on-site in the shop (though not on the two days we were in town, sadly).

Coffee roasted on-site at Mia Coffee in Hoi An

This was a really excellent coffee, with no need to add sugar, though you wouldn’t know that from the amount of sugar offered to us with each cup (I guess people used to the traditional Vietnamese coffee tend to pour the sugar in to make it drinkable…).

Coffee in Hoi An at Mia Coffee

Mia Coffee is on the edge of Hoi An’s old town, very convenient for us as we walked virtually past it on our way into town from our hotel. It has a beautiful verandah/terrace, with banana trees to shelter you from the worst of the heat, but also making for beautiful framing of the views onto the street beyond.

Views from Mia Coffee verandah

And they do cake! Now, some people may think that heat and humidity are not the best conditions for eating cake, but go to Mia Coffee in Hoi An and test that theory: I defy anyone to resist the home-baked carrot cake, chocolate cake or cheesecake, no matter how hot it gets.

Best coffee in Hoi An with cake

For tea in Hoi An, we were very pleased to find Reaching Out Tea House, right on the main street in the old town, not far from the Japanese Covered Bridge.

Covered bridge in Hoi An

Reaching Out is a very peaceful place to while away an afternoon. In fact silence is one of its selling points…

ReachingEnjoy

That started because the tea room is run by people who are hearing and speech impaired, and the silence just naturally rubs off onto the customers, most of whom sat quietly whispering while we had our tea. (Just one vociferous young German doctor, who was showing off to his juniors about his experience in remote Vietnamese communities, broke the virtual silence, but fortunately he chose to sit outside by the loos).

Reaching Out has a lovely menu of teas and coffees. You can choose one of three or go for a tasting session and try smaller portions of all of them.

Tea in Hoi An at Reaching Out Tea House

For tea, there’s an oolong, a jasmine and a red herbal. For coffee, there’s a chicory-based one, a mocha blend and an Arabica.

Sweets menu at Reaching Out tea house in Hoi An

And they have an interesting menu of sweet things, making this almost an afternoon tea, though don’t expect jam and scones; it’s more coconut rings and other similar looking sweet things.

This is a beautiful tea room, with overhead fans to keep you cool on a hot afternoon, and tables out the front if you like to people-watch over your cuppa.

We loved the visual aids for the staff, though most of the time you can get by with simple signs, and we actually didn’t need the blocks to write on.

ReachingSignBook

There’s such a positive vibe to this tea room, with the people working there clearly enjoying their jobs, and an overriding feeling of serenity, brought on almost certainly by the silence. A unique experience.

Tea in Uzbekistan – from the Silk Road to Panda Tea in Tashkent

Tea is almost as much a part of daily life in Uzbekistan as it is in Turkey. If our experience is anything to go by, you’re likely to be offered a pot as soon as you walk through the door of anywhere you’re visiting, and usually it’s served in beautiful blue-patterned ceramic, whether in an elegant hotel or in the scruffiest café in the middle of a busy market.

Our very first cuppa in Bukhara came with the welcome tray brought to us within five minutes of walking in to our hotel (the family home of Akbar, a local art collector).

Tea at Akbar House in Bukhara

But for venues that specialise in serving fine teas, you won’t find better than the Silk Road Tea House in Bukhara.

Silk Road Tea House in Bukhara

This place is tucked away in the corner of the same square where we found the Wishbone Café (for coffee). It’s set in a beautiful building, with wood panelling and wall hangings, giving it the feel of an old silk road house, though it’s actually a fairly modern build from the look of the brickwork.

Inside Silk Road tea room in Bukhara

It’s the only tea house we found in Uzbekistan where you can come near to an ‘afternoon tea’ experience. You choose from a range of teas, and you then have a selection of sweet goodies to go with your pot of tea: there’s a fudge, a sesame crunch sweet, dried fruit and nuts, and then some glacé sugar (which defeated even the sweet tooth fiend that I am usually).

Tea in Bukhara at Silk Road Tea House

All in all, though, it’s a delightful experience, very fitting for tea on the Silk Road. And if you like what you had, you can buy the teas or the spices that flavoured the teas on your way out.

Spices for sale at Silk Road Tea House in Bukhara

For a different kind of Silk Road tea experience in Bukhara, your other option is to sit where the traders must have rested when the pool in the centre of town was first built, in the 1620s.

Tea by the 17th century pool in Bukhara

The chaikhana right next to the pool is really more of a restaurant than a tea house these days, but they will still bring you an excellent pot of loose leaf tea if that’s all you want, and you can sit under the mulberry trees that presumably were one filled with the silk worms that made the Silk Road what it was.

The tea house by the pool in Bukhara in days gone by

The only camels you’ll find here these days are the carved sculptures across the pond, but they make a nice backdrop for this most romantic of venues for a cuppa.

Camels by the pool in Bukhara

On the Sharq Express train from Bukhara to Samarkand, we were impressed with the little glasses of tea served up as we journeyed across the country: just a basic green or black tea to choose from, but all prepared in the usual Russian-style samovar at the end of the carriages.

Tea in the Sharq Express in Uzbekistan

Samarkand slightly disappointed us for tea. The only venue that made any claim to be a tea house in the touristy centre actually closed its doors on us when we turned up at about 3.30pm looking for a cuppa. They told us to come back at 7pm, when dinner would be served. But that said it all for us: this is the kind of ‘tea room’ that sees itself mainly as a restaurant, and tea is just a side product from the meals it makes its money from. We didn’t return for dinner!

In Tashkent, we were delighted to find Panda Tea.

Panda Tea in Tashkent

This is not a tea shop in the afternoon tea sense of the word, but more a retail outlet where you can sample the teas for sale before buying.

Panda Tea shop in Tashkent

But we were given a very warm welcome by Deng, the Chinese-born owner, and his Russian assistant Ilnura, who sat us down and chatted about tea while serving up some delicious oolongs and other favourites from their list.

Panda Tea Shop's owner Deng

Deng comes from Chengdu originally, and since Chengdu was on our itinerary for the weeks ahead, he wrote down some tea tips not to be missed when we get there.

Deng is actually like many of the coffee shop and tea room owners we have met in the UK over the years in that he made a complete life change (from chemical engineering) to get into tea – he was just lucky enough to come from one of China’s biggest tea-loving cities, so could use contacts there to set up in Tashkent, where he had made his new home.

Gong fu ceremony at Panda Tea in Tashkent

Panda Tea is the result (named, of course, after Chengdu’s other main claim to fame). And this retail outlet is an absolute delight to visit. A must for tea lovers in Tashkent.

We left with a box of milk oolong to add to our collection of teas from this journey, but we’re going to save that till we get to Australia to taste – we’ll keep you posted when we do!

Our only other tea experience worth noting in Uzbekistan was the Turkish café in Andijon, on our very last day in the country. It’s not that the tea was particularly special here, but we were given a fantastic welcome from young Moazzem, who was very keen to practise her English on us.

Good cake at Turkish cafe in Andijon

And they did a great line in cakes. Yes, the people of Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley really love their cakes, and since cake is almost as important to our tea house visits as the tea itself, we can’t leave Uzbekistan without a mention for Mo’Jiza Café in Andijon…