Sixteen years ago this month, former hair stylist and Hong Kong native Hollie Wong opened a serene tea house on Wisconsin Avenue, steps from the C&O Canal. She named it Ching Ching (her Chinese name) Cha (Chinese for tea). And little has changed in the fashion and feel of this distinctive sanctuary since I enjoyed Wong’s hospitality that very first week.
“The purpose is to relax. Don’t be in a rush, taste the tea,” says Wong, as she pours our first cup from a fist-sized red clay pot. “We keep it the same, slow, with no Wi-Fi or those bubble tea drinks.”
At the center of the polished rosewood table is a cast-iron kettle of simmering water, at the ready for refreshing the tea leaves. From the kitchen come plates of perfect thin-skinned chicken, vegetable pot stickers and bowls of lightly dressed chopped kale and snow peas.
On a raised platform along one wall are two frequently reserved tables, low and with lots of pillows, perfect for laid-back sipping. Even when all the tables are taken, there’s a reverent hush. Here, tea drinkers tend to linger.
I check out the selection of more than 70 different teas, as well as teapots and tea accessories, which Wong acquires on annual buying trips to China, Japan and Taiwan. This just in: the select top-bud spring crop of first-quality “Monkey King” green tea, her personal favorite, is now in stock. “The leaves are beautiful and the flavor is elegant,” she says. “This is the tea for a stressful Washingtonian.”
A woman comfortable with familiar food pleasures, Wong starts the day near her home in gated Hillandale with a stop at Patisserie Poupon for a classic buttery brioche roll. For a dinner out, her preferred destination is the sprawling 120-store Eden Center, a Vietnamese dining and shopping enclave in Falls Church. (At Eden, her choice for takeout is Thanh Son Tofu.)
And when a snack is in order, she reaches for a Chinese fast food have-to-have: a hard-cooked egg marinated in spices and soy sauce. “I never get tired of them,” she says.
Marbled Tea Eggs
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons peppercorns
6 pods star anise
2 tablespoons black tea leaves, such as Earl Grey
8 cups water
Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water, one inch above their tops. Slowly bring the water to a boil. When boiling, cover the pan, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a bowl and run cold water over them until cool. Gently tap each egg until the shell is thoroughly glazed with small cracks.
Place the cracked eggs in a saucepan with the 8 cups of water, salt and soy sauce. Tie the peppercorns, star anise and tea leaves in a square of cheesecloth and add to the saucepan. Bring the eggs and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to very low and simmer for 1 hour. Turn off heat, cover and let the eggs stand in the liquid for 2 hours. Do not remove the cover while the eggs are steeping.
Remove the cracked shells and serve cold or at room temperature with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and a touch of toasted sesame oil.