A true gem!!! There is nothing like this within a two day's drive of here. It may come as a surprise to many that great teas can be every bit as complex and spellbinding as great wines. The owner of Formosa Art, Riva Chung, has been studying tea for over 25 years. Her experience extracting the most marvellous flavors textures and aromas from teas is unparalleled. While there are offerings such as bubble teas, the real stars are Taiwanese Oolongs! These are arguably some of the finest teas produced by any country. Formosa art is the only teahouse in Texas that serves tea as a Gong Fu service. Gong Fu Cha is the skillful art of preparing tea and this is the soul of this modest teahouse. There are only a handful of teahouses in the U.S. that serve tea this way, most of them on the West Coast. Formosa Art has an intimate, inviting feeling. The proprietress is very warm and willing to teach. For all of these reasons it is one of my favorite places for tea and company.
In response to Joshua's review: It is true that real Bai Hao (“Oriental Beauty”) has small insect bites on the leaves caused by the Tea Jassid (Empoasca flavescens Fabricus). This bite damage causes localized areas of the leaves to turn brown, and die. This is readily seen on examining Oriental Beauty leaves after steeping. Excellent photos of the bite marks on processed and unprocessed leaves can be found at http://teamasters.blogspot.com/2007/09/hsin-chu-county-oriental-beauty.html. Besides having great photos, it is also an excellent article on Oriental Beauty. Joshua writes that “There are no bite marks left as the leaf hoppers are too small to leave any visible evidence. The leaf does change in appearance though, becoming withered; like a fallen leaf.” However, the Indian agricultural-portal, Ikisan.com, describes Tea Jassid damage thus: “Nymphs and adults suck sap usually from the under surface of the leaves and inject toxin causing curling of leaf edges and leaves turn red or brown.” It is precisely this bite damage… this visible damage… that causes Oriental Beauty to have its prized fruit-like flavor and aroma. I don’t want to debate whether the leaves are bitten, punctured or injected with a toxin. I want to make it perfectly certain that everyone reading these posts will understand that genuine Bai Hao (“Oriental Beauty”) has visible damage to the leaves, caused by the Tea Jassid, and that these damaged areas of the leaves give the tea its intoxicating flavor. While not all teas damaged by Tea Jassids are Oriental Beauty, Oriental Beauty must have damage from Tea Jassids. The Oriental Beauty that I purchased from this vendor did not show any of the visible signs of Jassid damage that one typically sees. More importantly, the tea did not taste like Oriental Beauty. I do not attribute any malice to the vendor. However I think that vendors should be able to discern the authenticity, if not the quality, of the teas that they are buying and then selling. I would know if someone passed off aged baozhong for sheng puerh. Don’t you expect your tea vendor to know too??? A word regarding the ratings that I gave to this vendor: Variety – marked low because of the quality of the loose-leaf teas that I purchased. If this is any indication of their stock as a whole, then having more of it won’t make the problem any better. Artistry – marked med-low because the tea sampled on location was vapid. Service – marked as excellent because the proprietor was very helpful and anticipated my every need. The owner was warm and pleasant to talk to. Food – marked medium because I was hoping to discount any high or low scores because this vendor does not serve food to my knowledge.
What P.F Chang’s is to authentic Chinese food, Jade Leaves is to authentic Chinese Tea. Walking through their immense collection of Chinese scholar stones (largest I have seen in Austin) and the wonderful decorative features in the building I truly expected something wonderful. What I discovered, however, was absolute tea mediocrity. I am an oolong and puerh tea drinker, and though the tea selection was large, oolongs and puerhs are the portion of the menu that I am most competent to comment upon. All of the oolongs were from fall of 2006—one year ago. Not only was 2006 a poor year for Taiwanese oolongs, but the fall harvest produces oolongs of the lowest quality. Further, most of the lightly oxidized oolongs only have a shelf-life of 3-6 months depending on how they are stored. I asked to look at the Li Shan (they called in “Pear Mountain”) and it had gone off—no doubt because of the age and the way it was being stored. Many of the oolongs and all of the puerhs are best prepared in a style called “gong fu cha”. Overpriced tables, used for gong fu cha, could be found throughout the teahouse-- however the tea is served in steeping baskets. This is completely incorrect as the time required to steep these teas is measured in seconds and would be bitter by the time the pot or cup made it to the diner’s table. Of course this is assuming that the teas were good to begin with. Despite the abundance of gong fu tea tables, none of these are ever used. This underlines the fact that Jade Leaves is all artifice and no substance. Someone visiting from Taiwan or China might not recognize the names of the teas. One tea was called “Orchid Oolong”. No such tea exists. Perhaps it is a Baozhong with an orchid-like aroma, but this is universally called Baozhong oolong. Li Shan oolong was called “Pear Mountain” which is a literal translation, yet this is odd since other names were not translated. Another confusing name was “Green Guanyin”. There is no such tea as a “Green Guanyin”, but there is a Tieguanyin produced in Anxi , China that is green. The names seemed to have been pulled out of a hat. Again, the naming was odd for the puerhs also. While it is common practice for domestic tea vendors to not describe the cake in enough detail that you can tell what batch it came from. However, it is common to describe puerh with some consistency, beginning with the two major puerh types “Shou” and “Sheng”. This is the same as dividing wines into Red and Whites. The ripe puerh was correctly called a “Shou Puerh”, however the sheng puerh was called an “Aged Puerh”. I have no idea why they didn’t call them Shou/Sheng Puerhs or even Ripe/Aged Puerh. This may seem trivial, but it is the exact equivalent of going into a restaurant and asking for a wine vintage and then told that they only serve an “Aged Red” and “Blanc” wine. The clerk was very nice and was willing to answer questions, but to her admission didn’t actually know a lot about tea. I settled on a ripe puerh since this is cheap and hard to mess-up. I left feeling that another great opportunity had been lost to bring a true Chinese/Taiwanese tea experience to the community. All the artifacts and scholar stones in the world won’t make bad tea taste any better.