Samui Wining & Dining
Beginning With A Tea

Tantalising teas are only a part of the laid-back Namcha experience.

 

17You glance up and find yourself staring. There’s a tiny folding screen on the table opposite. Each of the six miniature panels depicts a Japanese figure. And, as you tilt your head, the exquisite gold, silver and copper leaf on the surface shimmers and gleams. You frown … and then cross the room to a wall display which features a dozen different brightly-coloured teapots. But in one of the niches is an antique treasure. Surrounded by the funky modern designs sits a small and dulled pewter pot with faded scrolls and time-worn pictures. You walk back to your place, slowly this time, discovering new wonders at every step – you’re surrounded by them.


This is a tea house: Namcha Samui. But there are no full-length drapes or Wedgwood china here. Rather, you’ll feel African vibes, sense Sri Lankan spirits and find furniture that fascinates. You’re in one big breezy, open-edged room, shady and enticing, but every few steps seem to take you somewhere new. A low, solid-silver filigree table here; African scatter cushions there; a cameo of the Japanese tea ceremony over in the corner: it’s wondrous to behold. And in and amongst all of this are the guys on the sofa enjoying beers, a couple savouring their English breakfast, and the folks, dotted around, plugged into the internet on one of the five broadband laptops. It’s a multi-layer experience, light-hearted and easy, but with an ever-so-serious involvement with tea, in all its aspects, at the very heart of it.


And in the middle of all this, you’ll also find Filipina Michelle Ho, ex-advertising executive and consultant, and now mother, businesswoman and full-time tea fanatic! This is her idea and her creation, and just about all the curios you’ll see here are souvenirs and objects d’art collected by Michelle on her tea-journeys across five continents.


Oh, it’s a serious subject all right,” she smilingly told me. “Tea is one of the world’s oldest drinks and its healthy and invigorating properties are woven into holistic medicine throughout the East. Tea has a long and colourful history that ranges from ancient Eastern mysticism, to the African veldt and the plateaus of Kenya, right through into Victorian drawing rooms. Even today, it’s the English national drink. But,” she continued, “like all things that are serious, the trick is to be light-hearted about it. And that’s why we also sell coffee, beer, wines and spirits. All tea and no beer makes Jack a dull boy,” she quipped, with a twinkle in her eye.


Unlike some tea houses, Michelle has fiercely resisted the lure of sponsorship or being tied to one sole tea producer. She insists on the freedom to roam the globe, discovering new suppliers and sampling new sources. Her business acumen has established a central depot in Sydney: the teas subsequently arrive there in bulk and are processed and repacked before being forwarded on to Samui. There’re basically four different types, each with their own essential properties, and from these she blends the 52 different teas on offer at Namcha.


Black teas come from mainly India and Sri Lanka and are oxidised in their processing, giving them their characteristic dark colouring. Unoxidised green teas are sweeter and contain more vitamins and antioxidants. Oolong teas, sourced from China and Taiwan, are renowned for their digestive benefits. And the rarest and most prized of all, white tea, is found in only one province in China and has fabled restorative, antioxidant and detoxifying properties. But these are only the start of it all. How about a blended punchy black-tea brew with ginger and lemon-grass? Or the camomile and peppermint pick-you-up? The South African staple of ‘rooibos’ is smoky and slightly bitter, but add basil and orange and it sings like a bird. Michelle is a tea guru who not only creates taste-bud treats but has also acquired an uncanny grasp of herbalist principles and can settle your stomach or tame that hangover (she even has blends especially created for lovers!). There’s obviously far more to tea than just tea leaves …


And there’s much more to Namcha than just tea, fundamental though it is. There’s an excellent range of wraps – veggie, pork, lamb, beef, chicken, beef – and these are big, chunky offerings crammed with salad. The ‘smaller’ size is substantial and the bigger one is almost a meal in itself. Another star-feature here is the pricing; the standard wraps cost just 80 baht, with the biggies coming in at 120 baht. There are several all-day breakfasts, including continental, English, American and Thai. Snacks and nibbles abound: bruschetta, garlic bread, French fries, chicken nuggets, spring rolls, crispy fish and prawn balls; the list goes on! These are all made on the premises from healthy and low-fat ingredients, although Michelle is full of surprises. “Condiments?” she inquired, eyeing me up and down with a grin. “We’ve got all sorts, but this might suit you!” And she passed me a bottle of OK Sauce. She’s a shrewd lady and obviously knows her customers.


Fisherman’s Village in Bo Phut is one of the most picturesque and oft-visited spots on the island. It grew from an original group of old wooden houses around where the pier once was and has now spread along the seafront. On the road outside, just as you lead into the ‘village’ from the ring-road traffic lights, is a huge archway. And Namcha is the first establishment on the left after you enter.


Looking in from the outside you’ll see, slightly elevated, the very comfy sofas on the right. And to the left is a heavy mahogany table with rows of tiny ceramic cups and dishes: the tasting table. This is where, once a month, Michelle and her staff line up all of her 52 blends and spend most of the day offering everyone a chance to sample the wares. It’s an exciting and enlightening occasion, a highlight on the calendar, and you can catch the next one on 12th March 2011 in the afternoon.


Namcha is an experience all in its own right. It’s an amazing tea house. It’s friendly, spectacular, cool, relaxed and pleasant. It’s a place where folks drop in to slow down or to snack. Sip a coffee or a beer. But mostly they come for the tea extraordinary experience, one that I can personally highly recommend.

 


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