“Scones and tea, anyone?”
That’s something I wish I could ask a guest visiting my home someday. As a lover of many things English, I often wish that I could take afternoon breaks with a delicious scone and a cup of tea in hand. Unfortunately, this is Manila, and looking for scones fit for the Queen of England—not that I’m royal; I just enjoy good food—is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately for all my fellow tea lovers, a knight in shining armour comes in the form of Renee Sebastian, the Philippines’ first certified tea master.
“da.u.de is a mark I started in New York City,” Renee tells me over scones (yes, finally!) and milk tea. “I wanted something proudly Filipino, but I didn’t want it to be too literal. Research brought me to the term ‘dayude’, which is the name for the most intricate part of an Igorot’s bahag. As you can see, there is not a single thing in the lounge or in what I do that has not been inspired by our main logo. I wanted to give people something to think about, basically.”
As an artist, tea has always been a constant in Renee’s adventures. Because she is a singer, she often needs tea to soothe her throat and to keep her calm. Later on, she saw the opportunity to be artistic by experimenting with tea. She started by supplying her blends to restaurants and hotels, but it wasn’t enough for her to establish her brand. “I wanted to showcase the many things you can do with tea,” she explains. “All of my food and drink items are tea-infused. I was hoping that people would get interested. If my work encourages you to take up baking, cooking or doing your own art with tea, then that’s terrific.”
Renee was generous enough to share some of the stories behind her tea blends with me. “One of my teas, Fatima Sola, was inspired by a young girl that I met in Morocco. This beautiful little girl with skin like porcelain—she reminded me of jasmine—really stood out to me. She used to repeat the same thing to me over and over again. She’d put her hand on her hip and say, “Me, Fatima Sola? You?”, and I would give her my name, but she’d ask the same thing. Her name stuck to me so hard that when I wanted to make a sampaguita blend tea, it just had to be named after her.”
To start things off, we were invited to choose some specialty drinks from their menu. Those under the Young category are da.u.de’s signature creative tea blends that cater to fans of the bubble tea phenomenon. What I love about this is that the flavor of the tea really rises above the rest—you don’t get overwhelmed by the sugar or the extras because this is really all about the tea. I fell deeply in love with the Rose Pink White (P180 for medium, P220 for large), which is a beautiful blend of Xaouen (green rooibos, green and white tea) guava, green apple and lime. It’s mildly sweet and, for some reason, made me feel incredibly better about myself. (Trivia: This is also one of Renee’s current favourite drinks, so I really want to promote it!) My friend, Kevin, had the Cajun Watermelon Smash (P180 for medium, P200 for large). This drink is something meant for the adventurous thanks to its unique blend of Afrikaan oolong, watermelon, cilantro, cucumber and cayenne pepper.
We both had so much love to give to the Coffee Almond Machiatto (P250) as well. For me, this is what legitimate—and this is as legit as you can get here in Manila—milk tea is supposed to taste like. Renee told us that this drink was meant to target the coffee drinkers and the bubble tea enthusiasts, but it is special in a sense that it is the natural, healthier alternative. The antioxidants are still present in the tea because they don’t process it in such a way that all the helpful entities are terminated during preparation.
Last, but certainly not the least, came the Lo and Behold (P195). This Bouquet Blanc White Tea vodka fused with lemongrass, lime and orange liqueur, is just one of the many tea-infused alcoholic drinks—yes, you read that right—that da.u.de offers. It has an interesting almond-y taste that fuses together well with its base alcohol ingredient, putting yet another twist on the typical bar cocktail.
Because tea is this lounge’s specialty, all of the food items that they serve are tea-infused as well. We were invited to try the Roasted Vegetable and Feta Eggplant Pizette (P350), which is a delicious and photogenic pizza dish with zucchini, olives, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. It’s really terrific to have something as western as pizza capture the spirit of the east with its tea-laced sauce. This is definitely a catch for those who are big on the healthy lifestyle. This was followed by the Poached Egg & Cheese Toast (P180), a delicious breakfast dish of vegemite spread and poached egg on baked gruyere open toast. “This one isn’t tea-infused,” Renee explains. “But I love it because there has been such a big demand for things like Croque Monsieur. I didn’t want to take on that challenge, so this is my version of things with a personal twist.”
We were also able to try out some delicious dessert items. My absolute favourite is the Cinnascone (P180). A scone is a slightly sweet, sometimes glazed quick bread made from wheat, barley or oatmeal. Renee takes a lot of pride in her array of scones because it is not a pastry that many restaurants in Manila carry. “They’re delicious and big and puffy,” she says candidly. “I did so much research and asked the opinions of so many friends to achieve the end product.” The Tea Brulee (P150) is a twist on the classic crème brulee. The lemon tea gives the custard a unique tangy flavour, which also kills some of the typical sweetness of crème brulees.
To top off our da.u.de experience, we were treated to an amazing, amazing dish from Renee’s secret menu: Shrimp Linguine with Chocolate Sauce. This pasta dish’s sauce is infused with dragon well tea leaves, which puts a definite twist on the flavours. Coupled with the chocolate sauce, it gives the pasta a grittier, more adventurous taste. This is not on the regular menu, so make sure to ask about the secret menu when you visit da.u.de Tea Lounge!
Renee is optimistic about the future of tea in the Philippines. “Tea consumption is becoming such a big thing because it contributes to the wellness aspect, which is something that people are starting to really consider. When I first entered the market, I was alone in this venture. I’ve been credited by many as the one who brought the industry into the country. The fact that big tea entities such as TWG have come into town are flattering to me. Now, I have the help of other companies in helping people become more educated about tea. The more the merrier, right?”