Christmas at the House of Twinings

Twinings Christmas pop-up store outside Mandarin Gallery.

As mentioned before, I’m a bit of a Christmas Grinch. However, I’m always excited about new tea spaces (even if temporary), so when a long lost friend whom I haven’t spoken to for 15 years contacted me out of the blue to tell me that he was helping Twinings put together a pop-up Christmas store in Singapore, I was more than happy to check it out.

During its launch, a Twinings’ Tea Master from Thailand conducted a cosy tasting session of its classic and specialty Christmas blends. His name is Khun Theerasak Phangmuangdee (or Dew for short). He is gentle, friendly and very professional and I learned quite a bit about tea cupping from him. For example, do you know that when it comes to tasting the tea, you only add 2.5g/cup for consumers but 5g/cup for the suppliers/distributors so they can truly get the flavours of the tea?

Here are the loose teas I sampled:
Gunpowder Green Tea: I’d say that this is a pretty good tea (sweet and grassy), even for “Chinese Chinatown tea standards”. I’ll keep you posted as to what my tea teacher says about this ;)
Vintage Darjeeling: Lovely muscat notes and a gorgeous golden colour.
Prince of Whales: A velvety blend of Chinese black teas including Keemun – for me, I needed the 5g version of the tea to really get its earthy, smoky notes.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Blend: A cross-cultural blend of 2nd flush Assam and Yunnan black tea. I am absolutely in love with its pastel tin packaging.
Lady Grey: I really love this – it’s a lighter, more citrusy version of Early Grey. What’s really interesting is that the black tea base is from Anhui Province (as opposed to the stronger Assam black tea); making this a perfect drink for afternoon tea.
Christmas Tea:  Malty Assam with cinnamon and clove – spicy punch! I’d think it’d go well with some condensed milk.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas – limited edition Twinings gift sets and a reunion with an old friend!

This specialty store is the perfect place to pop by after frantic Christmas shopping at Orchard Road. Trained Twinings Tea Ambassadors will be more than happy to let you sample their blends and you could pick up some gifts at the same time. Also, for those of you who have been hunting high and low for quaint tea boxes (I’ve had a few queries on this of late), you’ll find that some of their gift sets come in these gorgeous wooden boxes with a soft velvet inner lining.

Twinings is also organising a Facebook photo contest for visitors to this festive pop-up tea store – just snap some pictures at the House of Twinings and upload your photos here and you stand to win a trip to Bangkok for two and have tea at the new Twinings Tea Boutique there (where apparently, Dew and his other tea master colleague will even be able to make bespoke tea blends for you)!

House of Twinings Tea Parlour
Just in front of Mandarin Gallery (333A Orchard Road)
Opening hours: 12pm – 8pm (till 26 Dec 2012)

Monkey See Monkey Drink

Tai Ping Hou Kui (太平猴魁) – Peaceful Monkey King Green Tea

My friend passed me some of this tea from her precious stash after a trip to China (apparently from a “powerful government official”).I am always amazed how there are always new tastes to be discovered with Chinese tea *swoon*

This green tea is called Tai Ping Hou Kui, which translated in English means Peaceful Monkey King – a really cute name! It is one of China’s top 10 famous teas, and grows in the foothills of Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) in Anhui Province.

So usually, my tea teacher gets quite suspicious when I decide to BYOT (bring your own tea) for lessons…most of the time the tea we bring she deems as subpar or “ok lah” at best. But when she saw me took out a bag of these beautiful jade green leaves that are shaped like feathers, she got pretty excited. She even got me a new aluminium vacuum bag to store them in because “such good tea needs to be stored properly”. And even when there were a few tiny shreds left from the original packaging, she told me to scoop them up and put them in the new bag because “such good tea must never go to waste”.

So what is the taste like? It’s magical – like a sweeter, lighter version of gyokuru but leaves a lovely dewy note that lasts in your mouth for a while. For now, this is my preciousssssssss!

Magic in a cup (even if it looks a bit like boiled cabbage here)

Tea Giveaway

I need to do something about my  bursting-at-the-seams tea collection at home. There’s no point hoarding so much tea if I never get to see/taste them.

So I thought I’d do the next best thing: practicing GenerosiTEA (couldn’t resist this!)

Yes, that’s right. I want to give tea away. I’m spreadin’ the tea lurve. Incidentally, to assure you of minimum hygiene standards, I keep most of my tea in the fridge in vacuum, dark conditions and I promise to use a sterilised mahogany tea scooper thing and put the leaves in a nice plastic zipper bag thing.

Want some tea? Drop me a note at mel@melanielee.sg, with the heading “I WANT FREE TEA” and include the following details:
a) Your name
b) Your postal address
c) What kind of tea you usually drink
d) What you’d like to see in this tea blog

I’ll e-mail you to let you know what tea  I’ll be sending over to you in the mail. I’m like a Secret SanTEA! (ok, ok, no more corny tea puns).

As with any sort of promotion, here are just some ground rules. This is just to make things simpler on my end as I’m not great with paperwork.

Terms and Conditions
a) Recipient should be living in Singapore (so tea will come to you nice and fresh!)
b) Each recipient is only eligible to one complimentary tea sample.
c) As much as possible, please don’t ask me to swap the tea I send over to you unless this involves allergies. It’s always fun to try something new yah?
d) I don’t expect an overwhelming demand but just to set the record straight, this giveaway is limited to the first 30 people who write to me with the complete information requested (see a-d).

Let the Season of Giving begin! :)

Feeling Peachy at Momo & Moomoo

A friend’s friend (let’s call him Daniel) extended an invitation for me to have tea at Momo & Moomoo, a new cafe set up by Carrie and Kee Guan, the people from Tea Bone Zen Mind, along with another partner, Victor. David, a hardcore tea hobbyist (he even co-wrote a Tea Manual for Tea Bone Zen Mind), had heard about how much I like the drink and thought it’d be nice for us to well, talk tea. I’ve always been a fan of Tea Bone Zen Mind – their 茶叶蛋 (tea egg) is, in my opinion, the best in Singapore. More importantly, there’s a good balance of being embracing and adventurous while still having a respectful and traditional approach towards tea. In Momo & Moomoo, that essence still remains – but things feel fresher and livelier, and there’s also a new bubble tea menu, which I think is a great strategy to get more young people into this place.

This meeting came at the right time. My mind was in a rather fuzzy state after pulling a couple of late nights and the first thing I did was to order a Gyokuro, a premium grade of Japanese green tea, to clear my head. (Studies have shown that L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea, has calming properties.) It was served in this lovely set and the service staff gently explained to me the refilling procedure – apparently I have been putting way too little leaves and way too much water with my Japanese teas back home.

I’m glad to have met a like-minded tea hobbyist in David – he loves tea history (he is almost encyclopedic) and believes that tea rituals shouldn’t become such an anal/high-brow practice that only “a chosen few” are privileged enough to partake of. His take: pick up the processes which help you in making better tea e.g. warming the pot and cups so the temperature of the brew remains constant. But all the prancing and swishing about that sometimes accompanies certain tea ceremonies to make things look more exotic? Nah.

Later, Carrie showed us around the Tea Bone Zen Mind store upstairs stocked with gorgeous teaware; some pieces are even customized by Carrie herself. She also sells the tea blends served in the Momo & Moomoo cafe and explained how she uses actual fruit to flavour the teas as opposed to the conventional approach of adding flavoured oils. The result is subtler yet fresher and more authentic blends. What tea do I recommend? Their Earl Grey is really something special – do get Carrie or one of the staff there to tell you the story behind its unique alchemy (don’t want to spoil the surprise for you!) :)

Many thanks to my friend Jill for arranging this insightful meeting!

Momo & Moomoo is at 43 Middle Road, Tel: 6333-5400

Tea Bone Zen Mind has since shifted to 20 Hoot Kiam Road, Tel: 6334-4212

 

Getting Pally at Tea Pal

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the first kind person who invites me over for tea through this blog is someone from Tea Pal, the lifestyle arm of Nam Wan, a tea family business that has been around in Singapore since 1906. The tea pal in person is Zi Zhao – he just joined his family business after graduating not too long ago, and is fervently passionate about Chinese tea and its traditions. I learned a lot from him!

We had some really good tea throughout the conversation:

- Meng Ding Yellow Tea: A light tea to get warmed up – my take is that yellow tea is a nice in-between green and white tea and is definitely something to try if you haven’t sampled it yet.

- Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy): It had the lovely in-depth layering of floral, then leafy, then fruity notes which I love in premium Chinese oolongs. Zi Zhao is a descendant from the founders of Tieguanyin tea, so he really, really hopes this tea gets an image boost. He told us that Tea Pal has an eco-organic Tieguanyin range which I think is a great concept as tea drinkers become more discerning and increasingly concerned about pesticide issues.

- Mango Oolong: A fun tea that is a hit with the tourists. What I like is that the mango essence used has a really natural, subtle taste and complements the floral notes of the oolong. Can imagine it going well with a cream puff.

- Golden Shoots Pu Er: Really smooth and tasted more woody than soily (which is how most ‘shou’ pu er usually tastes). Apparently,  it is precioussssssssss. I was amazed that the flavour was still so rich even after 6-7 brews!

And the history geek in me did several cheerleader flips when Zi Zhao told me that the two tea canisters at the top of this tea display (see picture above) was given by Lim Keng Lian to his family. Some context: Mr Lim was like a tea community leader of sorts back in those days in Singapore, and given that I’d just talked about him at the tea talk last week, it was nice seeing his artefacts (you know, the history come to life kind of thing).

If you’d like to get a taste of what the Chinese tea ceremony is like, you can look for Christine at their MBS store. She is a lovely, graceful tea-loving lady who’d be more than happy to do a brewing demonstration for you.

Tea Pal

- Marina Bay Sands (L1-32)

- Raffles City (B1-48) 

Talking Tea

Last night, the National Museum of Singapore invited me to share tea history trivia as part of their Lighter Side of History Public Lecture Series. Initially, the organisers told me it would be an “intimate gathering of around 100 people”, but apparently, there was such an overwhelming response that the talk had to be shifted to the theatre which could seat around 250 people, AND there was a waiting list. Given that I’m nowhere near being famous nor do I have an impressive job title like “Chief Archaeologist”, it can only mean one thing:

THERE ARE MANY, MANY TEA LOVERS IN SINGAPORE! YAY!

During the Q&A session, there were people who shared their own tea trivia too and I liked how there was that sort-of dialogue happening. For example, there were two accounts of how tea got to be called ‘tea’. Version #1:It is derived from the Hokkien word for tea – ‘teh'(and likely so since Fujian province is a tea-producing region). Version #2: While being shipped to Europe, tea cargo was marked with an ‘X’ as the angmohs had no idea what to call it. People started reading the ‘X’ as a “t’and that evolved to ‘tea’. Cool, huh? I also was impressed with an industrious group of Japanese ladies who painstakingly took photos of every slide.

And what’s a tea lecture without some real tea? Very grateful that a tea business friend sponsored and served Ceremonie – this really lovely Israeli gourmet tea brand (LOVE their packaging) which hasn’t been launched officially in Singapore yet (soon, soon!). Some ladies looked very, very stoked about the tea they could sample and bring home. It’s a good feeling knowing that this little event managed to tea-light a few folks.

The New Face of Oolong Tea


We all know that New Zealand is a land abundant in milk and honey – but do you know that it also produces oolong tea?

Zealong is a premium brand of Oolong tea produced in New Zealand that is making waves in the international tea world for its purity (free from pesticides and fertilizers) and crisp, floral taste.

While officially launched in late 2009, it took 13 years of hard work and experiments for Vincent Chen, Director of Zealong, to adapt and perfect the art of producing oolong tea in New Zealand.

Originally from Taiwan, Vincent’s family migrated to New Zealand and set up a property development company in Hamilton city, Waikato. “My father started noticing that there were all these camellia trees, a close relative to tea bushes, growing in Hamilton. We asked a neighbour what they did to make their camellia trees look so healthy and they gave this ‘uh oh, another crazy immigrant’ look. We later learnt that you didn’t have to do anything, these trees just thrive naturally in this pristine environment,” Vincent recalls.

Being a tea-lover, he began growing his own tea bushes as a hobby in vacant company land and felt that setting up an oolong tea plantation had business potential. In the same year, he imported 1,500 seedlings from Taiwan. Unfortunately, only 130 survived after strict NZ quarantine regulations. Undeterred, Vincent planted these in his backyard, and has since grown 1.3 million plants with this humble batch of seedlings, along with bringing in skilled tea workers from Taiwan’s tea-producing regions like Alishan.

While oolong tea is seen as a traditional Chinese drink, Vincent and his team want to make Zealong tea accessible to the growing global tea market. At present, they offer a no-frills section of three oolong teas – Pure, Aromatic and Dark. Their products also cater to the discerning tea drinkers with single source, pesticide-free production that meets the stringent food safety standards of ISO 22000 HACCP certification.

“I believe you can taste the purity when you drink our tea,” says Vincent.

Tasting Notes of Zealong Tea:
Pure: Light-bodied, and vegetal with sweet floral notes.
Aromatic: Hint of fruitiness with a fragrant hyacinth aroma.
Dark: Roasted, nutty notes with a smooth finish

Health Benefits of Oolong Tea*
Decreased cholesterol levels
Increased fat oxidation
Reduction in visceral fat and waist size
Inhibit the growth of human stomach cancer cells
Lower glucose levels
Anti-inflammatory effects
*Findings compiled by AgResearch.

Tips on Drinking Oolong Tea
Use spring water to bring out the sweetness of tea.
Warm the pot or cup with hot water to keep brewing temperature consistent.
Rinse tea leaves once through with hot water; this allows the leaves to expand and release their flavour.
Appreciate the steeped leaves after drinking– good quality oolong tea leaves are rolled tightly, retain their rich colour and feel firm on touch.

Zealong tea can be purchased online at zealong.com. Many thanks to Vincent and Gigi for meeting up with me for this article. 

This article was also published in HungryGoWhere.

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