Tell Camellia is an award-winning cocktail bar tucked away in a nondescript building in Hong Kong’s Central District brewing up inspired tea-centric cocktails.

Most of us travel to Hong Kong for food or business, but increasingly I visit for cocktails. Hong Kong’s cocktail scene has exploded in recent years, with its edgy cocktail-focused venues – from swanky hotel lounges to indie hole-in-the-wall watering holes – increasingly on the lips of cocktail-loving revellers worldwide. Indeed, Hong Kong cocktail bars laid claim to a whopping eight spots on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list last year, with one, mezcal-focused COA, making cocktail history by winning pole position in the annual awards for three years running.

My most recent jaunt to Hong Kong brought me to Tell Camellia, which was No.23 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2021.

It’s relatively difficult to find the bar, ensconced as it is in a very narrow back alley wrapped between two weathered buildings in Hong Kong’s frenetic Central district. Its signage too isn’t prominent, slightly obscured by the frontage of yet another noteworthy award-winning cocktail bar, The Diplomat.

The interior of Tell Camellia

But you’ll be glad when you find it. The bar was buzzing when I arrived, a bevy of revellers engaged in conversation while sipping on their tea-based cocktails both indoors and outdoors.

Yes, as you can probably infer from its name, Tell Camellia draws inspiration from tea. You’ll see it once you enter the dim cocktail hangout. Instead of liquor bottles, nondescript tins containing tea leaves line the back bar. Founder Gagan Gurung cleverly segments his cocktail menu into sections, every section outlining different ways to enjoy cocktails that’s been reimagined to express the unique qualities of each tea variety.

A good way to do so is through its t-tonics. These are G&Ts that see gins redistilled with tea from sencha and jasmine to oolong and white tea. A flight is available so you can appreciate the fine nuances between each of them.

Not Negroni, which uses hojicha tea in the classic Italian aperitivo cocktail

Then there are its signature tea-tails. Tall Pine is exceedingly popular as can be witnessed as you look around the bar. This is a robustly-flavoured gin highball with notes of bitter sencha combined with floral elderflower and resiny pine along with herbaceous shisho. The Darjeeling Sour is a fruity tea twist on the gin sour, offering flavours of apple pie that elevate its notes of darjeeling. Not Negroni leans on hojicha’s roastiness to accentuate the classic Italian aperitivo cocktail, and I love that the tea somehow rounds out the sometimes overbearing bitterness of Campari.

For me, the house classics from Tell Camellia is where it’s at. The Oolong Old Fashioned is a simple yet effective variation of the classic, the oolong notes perfectly melding with the bitters to enhance the whiskey.

Here’s also where you find, in my opinion, the best drink on the menu – the Teapresso Martini. This is essentially a vodka-based espresso martini that eschews coffee for tea. Sacrilege, I hear some of you say. Yes, but absolutely divinely delicious sacrilege. For some reason tea benefits from aeration, and here proper shaking brings out all the aromas from the tea that makes this cocktail a winner.

Fat Fat High, combining tequila, matcha, bee pollen, duck fat, and jasmine peach soda

Of course, tea-based cocktails isn’t new. Mixology Salon in Tokyo is perhaps one of the pioneers in this space. Tell Camellia is less dramatic than performative Japanese tea ceremony-inspired Mixology Salon, and a lot more convivial. Both are different ways to enjoy tea cocktails.

Chances are you’re not going to be able to sleep after a night at Tell Camellia with all that caffeine coursing through your system, but hey you’re in Hong Kong. It is a city that never sleeps.

[Photos courtesy of Tell Camellia]

Tell Camellia

Address H-Code, LG Shop 2, 45 Pottinger Street, Tung, On Wo Lane, Central, Hong Kong (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 6pm to 2am daily
Tel (852) 9821 5501
Facebook tellcamellia
Instagram @tellcamellia

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