O5 is like a cross between a tasting room, a tea salon and a tea shop. It’s a space where people may share a moment of sincere admiration for the ancient art of tea. Or, if they are short for time – pick up a bag or two of intriguing teas to brew at home.
On the street, a barrel laden with steaming tea samples lures bypassers in. As you enter, you’ll notice the left wall, lined with shelves bearing the collection of directly sourced and carefully curated teas are laid out for you to explore on your own. But the heart of the space is the long bar lined to your right, with a hosting tea master that invite visitors to sit down on a bar stool while they watch the tea being prepared. Scattered around you’ll notice wooden boxes shaped like beehives, filled with heaps of freshly sourced tea.
O5 carry the same high quality teas that I remember from Dao Teas – such as Korean balyhocha oolongs, Sejak green tea (also from Korea), and the ever so memorable wild chrysanthemum tea - plus a few more to surprise and delight.
The tea bar is quite the experience - being a beautiful space, serene yet not intimidating; warm, inviting and at the same time uncluttered. To top it off - Pedro and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly (rather than pompous – which is not uncommon among tea connoisseurs, I’m sorry to say), and will brew the teas to perfection right in front of you while telling the story and explaining the quality of each tea – how it was grown, harvested and prepared, and what are the best ways to make it and things it might remind them of as they watch your facial expressions sipping a strange tea for the first time.
On Friday nights, you might be able to join a tea-cocktail event and stay till the wee hours of the night. And you can also enjoy tapas or sweets, all made on the spot: goat brit with homemade blackberry & japaneo jam; Candied Jamaica in its own tart syrup; Darjeeling tea caramels; or ones flavoured with matcha that is manually ground on location with granite stones.
The tapas menu changes, and so do the suggestions for tea tasting and “flights”. It was a no brainer for me picking the Autumn Flight of three teas: Golden Curls from Yunnan province in China that come from ancient tea bushes (more like trees by now); Balhyocha MLH which is mild and smooth with notes of sweet dried persimmon (if you haven't tried that, you should pay a visit to Ayoub's); and 1991 Oolong which is 21 years old and is the tea equivalent of whiskey and will knock your socks off!
Truly, each tea deserves a SmellyBlog story of their own. I will only say that I spent two hours sipping several steepings of each and nibbling on tidbits of elegant goodies on the side, which makes it quite the experience. We started with the golden curls, which albeit being technically a black tea, come from yellow coloured leaves. They were very mild and smooth, reminiscent of roasted butternut squash. The 21 year old oolong was so spectacular and awe-inspiring that I would have to dedicate an entire post to it; and the balyhocha was the finishing notes because of its calming effect as well as it being credited for aiding digestion. After the rebellious oolong though, I was so overwhelmed that nothing could quite impress me. Well, unless you count the caramels and the candied hibiscus blossoms!
The golden curls were so perfect for Autumn that I had to take home a bagful for my upcoming Halloween themed tea party this Sunday. I also bought some Ghorka estate black tea (from Nepal) which has astounding delicacy and even with my love for milk in black tea I felt no need to do so. And of course - Jamaica (hibiscus blossoms) from Mexico, and the very last bag of Japanese sencha (not on the website). I decided to leave the 21 year oolong behind so I can have more excuses to visit O5 and have it brewed properly in the right pots. I was pleasnatly surprised to find out that the tea tastings and treats were all half the price when you purchase over $25 in loose leaf tea. I sure hope this will bring O5 plenty of business, as what they are doing is so unique, and this will basically educate the new generation of tea lovers who are younger and ready to appreciate tea - but perhaps are not quite ready to turn off their smartphone and not talk for two hours of a tea ceremony in Chinatown.