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Be it black, red, green or white, tea comes from Camellia sinesis, a plant native to East Asia. It’s here that humans are believed to have started drinking tea some 4,000 years ago.

Tea is integral to our daily lives in Hong Kong. It’s the default pairing with Chinese food, and said to aid digestion, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the ancient drink beyond the traditional.

At The Upper House, you can kick back on Café Gray Deluxe’s lounges and take in the panoramas while sipping on a tea cocktail. Mixologist Jack Leung created a series of tea-inspired drinks ‘to accompany our popular Afternoon Tea for guests who want more than just tea or coffee’, he says. ‘They can choose a tea mocktail with layered flavours or light cocktails that are perfect for the afternoon.’

The drinks available with afternoon tea are under a whimsically named menu called Be Naugh-tea, and the cocktail menu has an even larger range of tea-infused beverages. Teas used include classic British styles such as Earl Grey and Ceylon black tea, as well as Chinese teas such as oolong and infusions like chamomile.

One of the most enduring of these is the Earl Gray Martini. Leung says, “We infused the gin with Earl Grey tea leaves at sixty degrees to fully enhance the flavour and to avoid creating any bitterness from high heat. The scent of bergamot in Earl Grey matches well with the equally fragrant notes of juniper berries in gin.” He adds orange and lemon for more citrus tang, and a rim of demerara sugar for a touch of sweetness.

Referencing the role of tea in Chinese wellness principles, Leung also created Pocket Money, a cocktail featuring black tea and red dates. “Black tea and vodka have neutral tastes and allow the unique sweetness of the red dates to stand out,” he says. He balances the earthy tones with a touch of passionfruit and elderflower syrup.

Nakamura Tokichi’s green tea-infused desserts, including soft-serve ice cream and mochi, are some of the city’s best. Image courtesy of Nakamura Tokichi

Customs of yore are also celebrated in novel ways at Nakamura Tokichi, the revered purveyor of green tea from Kyoto. Given that it was founded in 1854, you’d expect it to be all pomp and circumstance, but Nakamura Tokichi has moved with the times and created some of the best matcha and hojicha (roasted green tea) soft serve ice-cream the city has ever tasted. It can even be made into a sundae, with additions such as delicate balls of mochi, puffed genmai rice and matcha chocolate. Traditionalists needn’t fear, as this little takeaway counter also serves a range of teas, from the highly coveted gyokuro, grown under shade to capture the sweetness of the leaves, to their own Nakamura blend, a secret recipe made with seven types of tea.

A couple of steps away, Sun’s Bazaar offers a whole different tea experience in the form of Insta-perfect Taiwanese bubble tea, made with all-natural, preservative-free ingredients. Think jasmine tea with Chinese herbal tea pearls, and winter melon tea with Sichuan pepper-flavoured pearls, topped with cream mousse. The full-service restaurant is in fact the first eatery opened by KiKi Noodles, the cult-favourite Taiwanese brand known for its artisanal, sun-dried noodles. Slurp on the signature Sichuan-style beef noodles and cool off with a pineapple green teaspresso. Don’t forget to check out the desserts, many of which are infused with tea, from Earl Grey chiffon cake topped with brown sugar pearls, to profiteroles filled with KiKi’s own roasted tea cream. In keeping with their ethos for all things natural, for Mid-Autumn Festival they’re releasing Taiwanese-style mooncakes made with ingredients like taro, dried sakura shrimps and salted egg yolk, which is best paired with the delicate aromas of the house peach oolong tea.

BASAO tea bar champions the best, clean sources of tea from around Asia. Image courtesy of BASAO

Tea-flavoured desserts can also be found at BASAO tea bar on Moon Street. The brand, launched in 2011, promotes ‘holistic sineculture’ (all things related to tea) and prides itself in finding the best, clean sources of tea from around Asia, be it a Lingia Second Flush from the foothills of the Himalayas or Traditional Smoky Bohea from the mountains of Fujian in China. It’s a response to industrial tea farming, which is rife with ethical and environmental issues. “Our tea engineers advocate the holistic ecology and craft of tea as an art, not just a commodity, connecting personally with our partner growers from cultivation and picking to brewing, packaging and fair trade,” says chief operating officer Oliver Ma. By giving value back to a drink that many of us take for granted, BASAO encourages us to slow down and smell the leaves, literally. At their minimalist tea bar, you can watch your tea being brewed, with water carefully heated to specific temperatures according to your tea and steeped in delicate glass pots. If it’s hot outside, try one of their chilled teas instead — take your pick from black, green or oolong. Either way, you can sip on your tea while tasting a slice of their homemade tea cake roll, scented with the smoky leaves of Taiwan’s Ali Mountain.

Beauty Infusion

It turns out the world’s most popular drink has plenty of beauty benefits too. It’s packed with powerful antioxidants, which can fight DNA damage from UV rays and combat the signs of ageing. It’s also rich in anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which soothe skin and combat breakouts. Several brands have crafted their entire ranges around the humble tea leaf, including French-Chinese label CHA LING, which draws on a cold-fermented Pu-erh tea from Yunnan as its hero ingredient.

Plenty of niche and luxury beauty players are also paying homage: Beyorg’s Konjac Facial Puff Sponge and GLAMGLO W’s DREAMDUO are infused with green tea, with the former also coming in chamomile.

Benefits aside, the scent of tea has proven equally compelling with consumers. Case in point? Jo Malone’s fragrance collection, which includes tea-infused aromas that range from Oolong and Jade Leaf to Black and Darjeeling.