The tea service at Golden Flower in Wynn Macau is intricate, precise, and attended by a tea sommelier whose mission is to find your perfect brew—or the perfect match for dinner.
James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room, an entire dining room painted as a commission for British ship owner and art collector Frederick Leyland in the 1870s, is considered one of Whistler’s greatest works. In fact, its final owner realized that it was so important, it belonged in the public domain. So he had it dismantled and it now resides in the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The work’s influence has been broad; in fact, the ornate tea lounge at the Wynn Macau restaurant Golden Flower was inspired by the Peacock Room. When the original room was in service, Leyland would likely have enjoyed high tea there on most days. But it’s unlikely that even this tycoon experienced a tea service of the caliber offered by the two-Michelin-starred Golden Flower. He definitely would not have had a tea sommelier. Percy Cheung holds the position at Wynn Macau, where she brings guests the finest teas, helping them make a selection that complements their tastes as well as the menu, which features Tan, Lu (Shandong), and Sichuan cuisines. Cheung, who holds the qualification of advanced tea art specialist, studied under a tea master in Hong Kong and led workshops and seminars at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware for six years. “Growing up,” she says, “I always felt that tea had a kind of magical quality to it.”
Cheung brings that magic to Wynn Macau, curating premium teas from China’s best-known tea regions—41 selections currently, with 23 more to be added in the spring. In the lounge, she oversees traditional tea ceremonies employing teas brewed expertly with whole leaves and flowers and served using the finest teaware. Staff members carefully calibrate the temperature, especially for delicate teas like green and jasmine, by pouring the water in a high stream so that the air cools it.
Tea is also central in the dining room, available to guests first rather than last. A meal often begins with a pot of Golden Flower’s unique signature blend of chrysanthemum-infused oolong tea to ready the palate. Then Cheung will suggest a tea that complements the qualities and flavors of each course. “Tea is a subtle beverage in general, not having a strong character like alcohol or coffee,” she says. “Tea plays a role on the dining table of cleansing and balancing the palate, assisting the natural flavors of each dish to come through.”
Green tea, one of the most delicate, can enhance the freshness of seafood, for instance. High in amino acids, green tea creates the earthy umami taste and can be as sweet as chicken soup. It pairs excellently with dishes such as Golden Flower’s steamed fish with chicken stock “Tan style,” stir-fried scallops with marinated ginger, and stewed fish maw with crab claw in chicken broth.
For meatier dishes, Cheung may suggest a vintage pu’er tea. A large-leaf varietal, pu’er has high levels of polyphenol and tannin, which neutralize the oils from heavy meats and aid digestion. “Its mellow, sweet, full-bodied texture can clear up our palate instantly,” says Cheung, who also suggests pairing it with braised, deep-fried, or crispy dishes, like spiced roasted yellow croaker, braised abalone in brown sauce, or braised pork ribs with pineapple and osmanthus honey.
Tea also figures in the dishes themselves. On the menu is a Sichuan tea-smoked duck and a dish featuring fresh clam and jasmine in chicken soup. “The scents of the jasmine flower are released by the heat as it floats on the clear chicken soup,” says Cheung.
For the cold months, Cheung is recommending Wuyi oolong, red tea, and brown pu’er tea: “These teas are highly fermented, which carries a warming effect and boosts the circulation to our body.” The pu’er teas, grown in the Yunnan province of southwestern China, are aged between five and 30 years, with their large leaves often pressed into balls that blossom in the water.
Like wine appreciation, tea appreciation has a bit of a learning curve, but Wynn Macau offers classes in which students can acquire this new vocabulary of taste, texture, aroma, color, and aftertaste. “Tea descriptions are more or less related to the herbaceous,” Cheung explains. Some descriptions will sound similar to those used for wine: buttery, full-bodied, complex, bold, chocolaty, smoky, fruity. Others less so: umami, vegetal, wheat, salty.
And then, of course, there’s the magic, which is hard to put into words.