One of the great things about social media is that it allows you to connect with people you’d never otherwise know, and then if you happen to be travelling through their home town, it gives you the chance to meet for real. That’s what happened with Ratna Somantri, the head of promotion at Indonesia’s Tea Board.
Ratna’s enthusiasm for tea is so infectious that she has built up a 600-strong network of Indonesian tea lovers, many of whom meet up monthly just to discuss (and drink, of course) tea.
We arranged to meet Ratna on our last day in the Indonesian capital, not knowing that she had arranged a get-together of half a dozen others from Indonesia’s tea industry, so we had the pleasure of afternoon tea in Jakarta with tea growers and tea distributors from all over Java. Now, that made for a surprise tea party, making us want to return for one of their monthly big meet-ups next time we’re over.
Ratna is a great champion of Indonesian tea, but is far from her goal of seeing Indonesian grown tea on the menu in cafés and tea rooms all over the country and premium quality tea brought to everybody’s palate in her own country.
In fact, she reckons the TWG tea room in a trendy shopping mall in Jakarta is one of the few places you can actually order a pot of Indonesian tea. And that’s why she arranged our meeting for tea time at the the glitzy TWG Tea at Pacific Place. There’s a fantastic range of teas on offer there, more than 500 types, but only two Indonesian teas on the menu, so we got to taste both of them…
We also tried the afternoon tea itself, with the classic tiered tray, delicate sandwiches, pastries and little cakes, all of which had a tea theme or tea as one of their ingredients.
This is a really good place for afternoon tea in Jakarta, though it’s got a fairly exclusive glamorous look to it, and it’s not the cheapest place in town for a cuppa.
What made it extra special for us was the company. There was Alexander, the organic tea grower, who invited us back to visit his plantation next time we’re in the country; Retna, who plied us with samples of her wonderful teas, also grown on Java; and others whose names I didn’t note down (much to my shame – sorry, because we had some great conversations with all of them!).
The good news for tea lovers planning a visit to Jakarta in 2015 is that there will soon be a new tea room opening soon. Gaia Tea & Cakes is the brainchild of Ratna herself, and it should be a wonderful platform from which to showcase more Indonesian teas than are available anywhere else at the moment.
Our other afternoon tea experience in Jakarta came at the rather splendid Hermitage Hotel in the Cikini district.
This is a new hotel in a recently renovated 1920s building; a really stylish place for taking tea. Sadly, as Ratna pointed out, their very good afternoon tea does not offer any chance to taste tea grown in Indonesia, even though you can choose from a number of other teas supplied by the same TWG company whose tea room we visited in Jakarta.
What we liked most about the afternoon tea at the Hermitage was the option to choose an eastern afternoon tea with spring rolls, curry puffs, a delicious moist sponge cake and some gooey green stuff with coconut, which we couldn’t identify but tasted wonderful. as an alternative to the western style tea, with sandwiches, quiche, mini eclairs and macaroons (but no scones!).
Tea at the Hermitage is only served between 3pm and 5.30pm but it’s well worth it, though we wondered if their price of about £7 (GBP) was just an introductory offer to draw people in. If not, it’s tremendously good value too.
It’s just a shame that they’ve gone for big corporate suppliers (even if they’re good ones like Illy for coffee and TWG for tea) when there are fantastic local suppliers who could make this a real showcase for all things Indonesian.
Still, for a country that is so associated worldwide with coffee, Indonesia is looking like it’s going places for tea. If we revisit in five years’ time, I like to think tea will be much more widely available and drunk in many more venues than now.
In the meantime, we are still trying the tea samples our Indonesian tea friends gave us, and very good they are so far, the red tea being our favourite at this stage…