Savouring the flavour of tea in Muscat
Maria Giulia Zunino
For Taoists, tea is the drink of the spirit, nurturing harmony of the senses and inner peace. These qualities are particularly evident in a tea lounge recently opened in the Al Falaj Hotel in Oman’s capital Muscat by the Sri Lankan group Stassen, a tea producer with a history dating back more than 40 years. The project was commissioned to the practice Mandressi, the same firm of architects who originally designed the hotel a number of years ago.
A relatively small country in the Arabian Peninsula with a total land area of 309,000 km2 extending from the Arabian sea coast in the east to the border with the United Arab Emirates in the west, Oman is renowned in particular for its religious tolerance and political stability. Instead of nomadic Bedouins, its population originates from seafaring traders who sailed the Indian Ocean and is made up of 75% Ibadis, a third branch of Islam alongside Sunnis and Shiites that shuns religious extremism and is known for its strong ethical and social conscience. For almost 50 years, the country has been ruled by the sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who holds complete religious and temporal power and pursues an international policy of engagement (Oman controls the Strait of Hormuz, through which 25% of the world’s oil passes) alongside economic reforms that respect culture, history and traditions.
A sense of rationality is also evident in the architecture of the capital, a narrow strip of land extending along the coast that is notable for the absence of the starchitect-designed skyscrapers that dominate the skylines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and are in fact forbidden by law, which imposes a maximum height of 7 floors. Today as in the past, the skyline consists of mountain peaks. Order and elegance are the watchwords of the city, which in 2016 was named the cleanest city in the Middle East. The sultan’s love of culture and music gave rise to the Royal Opera House Muscat. Traditional dress is encouraged but not imposed. White marble from India, Iran and Italy enjoys pride of place in the Grand Mosque, the second largest in the world, surrounded by gardens of roses, hibiscus, bougainvillea, jasmine and frangipane. The inebriating aroma of frankincense that pervades the souk is the leitmotif of the design of Oman’s pavilion for Expo 2020 in Dubai, the shape of which is reminiscent of the frankincense tree. The exhibit will illustrate the country’s development through the role of incense in the fields of transport, knowledge, production and sustainability.
A sense of calm likewise pervades the project we look at in this article. Drawing from their in-depth knowledge of local culture, the Austrian architects have modernised the traditional tearoom aesthetic by combining the discreet, peaceful atmosphere of the table area with the more modern style of the tea drinking zone. While the first area stands out for its neutral colours (the tamarind painted oak of the parquet floor, the natural oak of the tables and chairs with their white seats, the white walls enlivened by the colours of the boxes and tins of tea lined up in the wall-mounted bleached oak display units), the second area maintains the soft colours of white and two grey tones while focusing on satin-finished porcelain, chosen in a hexagonal format (Examatt collection from Tonalite) to create an elegant and surprising graphic effect.
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): E<0,5%
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): >1300 N
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant