When one thinks of the bustling Cavendish Square and its surrounding busy Claremont streets, the word ‘sanctuary’ isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind.
In fact, it may be the opposite. But those in the know can vouch for a little gem they often frequent that can’t be described any other terms. O’ways Teacafe is nestled in the often congested Dreyer Street, amid corporate buildings and lively eateries. With so much activity going on around it, O’ways is the eye of the storm.
Upon entering, one immediately feels an aura of calm and serenity, with all sense of urgency left at the door. The cafe is housed in a deep-set building, with glass doors looking out towards the streets and exposed brick walls that bring a rustic effect. These elements combine to create a literal enclave; a cocoon of positive vibrations that extend from the friendly people to the food on your plates.
Having been around since 2006, O’Ways has built up a loyal group of core customers who are well versed in loose-leaf teas. However, the culture of tea drinking in South Africa has grown exponentially in the last few years and O’ways sees a new wave of intrigued patrons every day. Luxury hotels such as the Taj and Mount Nelson have picked up on the trend, in addition to numerous tea-houses populated around the city. Assimilation into the mainstream hasn’t deterred O’ways from its core mission – to bring wholesome food and energy to its guests, nor has it knocked the tea emporium from its market spot.
O’ways prides itself on its unique concept – balancing the energies of ying and yang by operating not only as a niche tea house, but also as a high quality artisan-roasted coffee joint, enjoyed by many on a wider scale. Brains – and heart behind the establishment, and one-half of a dynamic duo, Lisa Tsai explains their ethos of always maintaining the wholeness of the universe. In doing so, O’ways utilises the earth’s natural gifts of tea, coffee and exquisite plant-based food to bring together a complete whole and harmonious product offering.
A selection of more than a 100 Nigiro teas are sourced from the depths of Africa to the highlands of Asia and form the heart of the Teacafe. From Chinese green teas to native South African rooibos, sweet fruit infusions, herbal teas, red, black white and Oolong, every blend is hand-crafted by tea-connoisseur Mingwei. The tea is served piping hot in delicate glass tea ware, an O’ways custom that allows the drinker to observe the changes in the tea as it infuses. The various colours and aromas form a multi-layered visual and sensory experience, the significance of which aims to get people to stop and appreciate what’s in front of them at that moment, rather than simply rushing to the next thing, as we’re so prone to do.
Traditional Taiwanese tea ceremonies are available to cultivate this sense of appreciation even further. A range of infusions are selected to taste while Lisa or Mingwei take you on an oral journey, describing a detailed history and story behind each tea. Tea-lovers can enjoy this ritual in groups for a bonding experience, or new drinkers can embark on a solitary journey, enriching their minds on this ancient beverage.
Indulge in a rooibos blend infused with peppermint, spearmint and hints of caramel for a sweet treat after your meal, or opt for a refreshing lemon-based infusion as a palette cleanser to complement a flavoursome dish.
We were lucky to try both and had the tea drinking process explained to us step-by-step. First the waitress arrives with a glass teapot equipped with an integral infuser. There is a small sandglass used to time three minutes. Depending on the type of tea you are having, or the strength you’d like your tea to be, the timer can be turned over to extend the infusion period to get the perfect brew. Once the tea has been infused adequately, the waitress reappears to pour some tea into a small porcelain cup and then releases it once more through the infuser, seemingly to solidify the flavour absorption. She then removes the infuser and places it on a saucer. The tea is now ready to drink.
Of course, the teas can’t exist alone, and the cafe’s coffee selection possess just as much mastery as their ‘ying’ counterparts. Renowned coffee house, Origin, have ventured with O’ways to provide their robust and bold selections in store and vibrant barristers trained in the art. This usually attracts a morning crowd rush looking for a quick caffeine fix. Fortunately, they are spoilt for choice from decadent cappuccinos to potent espresso shots, accompanied by the calm ambience they’ve come to enjoy, leaving them ready to tackle the day.
Lunch time is when the exquisite menu items take centre stage. Lisa stresses the importance of the spirit behind what comes out of the kitchen. She says: “I only serve items that I’m happy to serve my own family and that doesn’t go against my personal beliefs”. Those beliefs form the strict policy of O’ways that prohibits the use of “anything that moves”. Mouthwatering vegetarian and vegan options make up both the lunch and breakfast menus which are updated with the seasons.
With South Asian and Malawian chefs, as well as Lisa and Mingwei’s Taiwanese roots, the menu is a convergence of multicultural influences. Both Eastern and Western dishes are features and are prepared with items such as eggs, aubergine, tofu and mushroom as a satiating protein replacement.
Dishes such as the cauliflower and chickpea fritters served with mixed vegetables or the spicy quinoa burger with tofu mayonnaise are the current hearty winter favourites. But it is the Har Gau dumplings that really got our tastebuds tantalized. Filled with soya mince, carrots, cabbage and mushrooms, the Har Gua offers chewy goodness with muted flavours. This is accompanied by a side of mixed vegetables stir-fried in salty soya sauce that provides just the right level of punch.
Every dish is assigned a complementary tea that is recommended to balance the flavours and tone of your meal.
For dessert, a slice of raw cheesecake is unconventional yet delicious. The consistency is rich and creamy and the rich chocolate flavour is tweaked with a hint of orange. Surprisingly, the ingredients are all vegan, leaving nothing but guilt-free delight as you round off your meal.
It is clear that O’ways is more than just your regular cafe. Every aspect from the specialty products and eclectic décor to energy realigning atmosphere, this tea and coffee house serves a greater purpose – “to make everyone feel confident and comfortable in our space, so they can extend our love and happiness out into the world. That is our contribution to society”.
Photography K-Leigh Siebritz