Tea Loves: Alison Appleton

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I recently made the virtual acquaintance of Alison Appleton, a tea ware designer from Liverpool. She has created gorgeous tea equipment for brands such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and La Cafetière. Alison is also a hardcore tea aficionado who has travelled to tea plantations in China. I love her work, and am so glad to know a fellow tea lover who is bringing more good tea and tea ware to her part of the world! I hope you get a chance to know her as well through this interview :)

Hi Alison! Tell us about how you fell in love with tea.
I come from a very sociable family. The kettle was always on, and there was always lots of gossip going on over cups of tea! My grandmother always made loose leaf tea and gave it to all the children in the family with milk and sugar.

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How did you get into tea ware design?
I worked as a design consultant to La Cafetière for 10 years, and they sold products dealing with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. This sparked an interest in the history of the tea trade. I then made a few visits to China and fell in love with tea.

I think the story of tea (and all the beautiful products that have been created in order to serve it) is amazing. The history of the tea trade and tea’s extraordinary popularity of being in almost every home around the world makes it a subject worth studying.

At the same time, it is very important for me to make things that are useful as there is a lot of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the world. I want my pots to be enjoyed and used all the time, not just for special occasions.

You’re “anti-teabag” but the teabag is such a British institution – how do you deal with this?
Unfortunately, the teabag is the most common way to make tea in the UK because it is perceived as being quick and convenient. As a result, many people are used to the very blunt taste of (mostly poor quality) teabag tea.

However, I am very happy to report that there is a growing interest and appreciation of loose leaf teas. We hold monthly tea tasting sessions in our studio during which we take a look around the world and taste a huge variety of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, African and other teas. We have also selected a range of blended and flavoured black teas. Once our visitors taste these teas, they realise how much finer they are compared to the standard teabag.

They also see how very easy it is to prepare loose leaf tea without any fuss or mess.

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Some of your tea ware designs incorporate Chinese and Japanese tea ceremony elements – what sparked your interest in these aspects of tea culture?
My first collection was inspired by the history of the tea trade in the UK. As tea was introduced to the UK, Chinese decoration motifs were used everywhere. This period saw the birth of British Chinoiserie, Ming vases, Chinese wallpaper, Thomas Chippendale furniture used by famous characters such as Jane Austen and Earl Grey. It seemed like an obvious place to start. My first collection was Darcy, named after the famous literary hero himself. Jane Austen would have drunk tea all day long and it would have been Chinese tea bought from Twinings.

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My favourite design is your Golden Carp Series – how did you get your inspiration for that?
As my collection is quite small, I wanted to ensure there was some variety in the range. This one is the most glamorous and has a bit of bling! For Golden Carp, I wanted to fuse a European shape with Oriental imagery. Everything about this set symbolises good fortune: the carp, lotus and gold are all auspicious.

What kind of message do you want to send about tea with the kind of tea ware that you create?
That tea is special and we should make it properly. When you consider the effort that goes into growing, picking, drying and rolling a whole variety of exquisite teas, it is only correct that we brew them in lovely tea ware.

Good loose leaf teas are relatively inexpensive and can be enjoyed by everyone. I see the new interest in tea as being similar to the recent growth in the coffee business. Today, a huge proportion of people in the UK have espresso makers at home and enjoy a variety of espresso based coffee drinks every day. I hope that one day, consumers will be more demanding when it comes to drinking good quality tea.

What is your most memorable tea experience so far?
I visited a Longjing tea plantation as a guest of a family who had a share in that plantation. They gave me a delicious lunch, and after that, we drank pre Qing Ming Longjing tea all afternoon while sitting outside in the sunshine on a warm autumn day. The plantation looked beautiful and everything was delicious. I felt very lucky to have such an experience.

What is your tea ritual?
I usually drink Uva Pekoe from Sri Lanka for breakfast. This has a strong and malty flavour that goes very well with sourdough toast or my usual bowl of porridge with honey. Mid morning, I will make a pot of Da Hong Pao or another Oolong. Lunchtime, I’ll go for something like a black tea with rose.

In the afternoon, I will always drink green teas as they give me a lift. Before bed I like something light and delicate like a white tea.

Tea is …
Tea is a comfort. It revives and soothes, and always features at important occasions when friends and family are together.

Images courtesy of Alison Appleton

Connect with Alison (@AlisonAppleton) on Twitter

Tea Loves: Lianne Ong (Plus Some Tea-Jewellery Pairing)

lianneLianne with her husband, Salmon. They love drinking tea (even though they have a “Drink Coffee” poster behind them) and have just set up an online designer fashion jewellery store called Pinwheel Jewels. Image courtesy of Jimmy Sng.

Lianne is a dear friend whom I have drunk many cups of tea with. In general, we talk about things like LIFE and FINDING PURPOSE…thank God there’s tea to mellow us down as we meander around these abstract topics.

I’m really happy for her because she’s  found something that suits her priorities and interests – opening up an online designer fashion jewellery store called Pinwheel Jewels with her husband, Salmon. She has a wonderful artistic eye, a sophisticated fashion sense and is a whiz in all things logistical – a perfect combination for such a business if you ask me!

While ogling at her jewellery over tea one day, I thought hey, wouldn’t it be fun to do a tea-jewellery pairing featuring some of the exquisite products from Pinwheel Jewels? And so, here’s what she came up with:

Lychee Oolong + Kenneth Jay Lane Chinois-inspired Carved Resin Earrings
“These earrings are a new take on traditional jade openwork carvings, just like this lychee infused oolong tea.”

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Japanese Green Tea with Sweet Berries + Sakura Earrings and Bracelet by Shlomit Ofir Jewelry Design
“These earrings and bracelet are the perfect match for this tea – sweet, delicate and floral.”

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Earl Grey Tea +  Pearl Tassel Earrings with Crystals by Ben-Amun
“This bergamot-scented brew and Art Deco style earrings would work perfectly on the set of Downton Abbey.”

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Turkish Apple Tea + Kenneth Jay Lane Black Deco Cuff with Rhinestones and Jade
“The sweet and warm Snow White meets her match with the Evil Queen – who sees green whenever her crystal mirror reveals the truth to her.”

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We had so much fun doing this – I think tea and jewellery are unexpectedly wonderful companions! And yes, as you can tell, Lianne really does love her tea. So of course, I need to do a Tea Loves feature on her too :)

Tell us more about your love of tea.
I start the day with tea, and I often have a pick-me-up in the afternoon as well. I started drinking tea as a child, and I remember the dentist asking my mother whether I drank tea because she could see tea stains on my teeth! Tea has become something comforting, and you can always find the right tea for every occasion. My husband also enjoys tea – we liked it enough to include it as a wedding favour for our guests when we got married.

What are your favourite teas and why?
I must qualify first that I’m not a tea expert, I just drink what I like and what seems fitting for the occasion. For cold teas, I like an iced Darjeeling. Our family has lived overseas twice, and during winter, I love a cup of chai. The spices are warming and the milk is so comforting.

Describe your most memorable tea moment.
When I was dating my husband, my future mother-in-law asked me to make a pot of tea. This was the first time I was allowed to potter around in her kitchen, which was strictly her turf. After making the pot of tea – where I had followed my gut instinct to make the tea extra strong – she told me, “I don’t know if you can cook, but you make a good pot of tea.”

How is wearing jewellery similar to drinking tea?
Jewellery is not only a way to express personal style, but also a way to make memories. I’m really sentimental about my jewellery, whether cheap or expensive. I always remember who gave what to me, during which occasion and why. It’s my time capsule. Similarly, certain tea blends can send me back in time and I’ll recall when I last had this tea, how I was feeling then, and whom I was drinking it with.

Pinwheel Jewels
https://www.facebook.com/pinwheeljewels
https://twitter.com/PinwheelJewels

And finally, I get to the best part:
PINWHEEL JEWELS IS OFFERING TEALADYMEL READERS  10% DISCOUNT  ON PURCHASES S$200 AND ABOVE! YAY!!
PROMO CODE: TEALOVES10
Promotion valid till 31 July 2013.
Not valid with other promotions and discounts.

Tea Food on Yahoo Singapore

I really enjoyed researching this article because it just showcases the versatility of tea so well – though I am not really any sort of chef, I feel inclined to throw in some Longjing into my chicken soup the next time round. The full article can be found here.

Tea Pairing on Yahoo Singapore

Another tea-related article that I did for Makansutra/Yahoo Singapore.

I’m so happy to have found a Chinese restaurant that respects tea as much as their food in Singapore (see Tian Fu Tea Room)!

The full article can be found here.

T Ching Post – Growing Up in a Tea Family + Random Updates

Remember the tea pal? I get to tell more of his story on T Ching, yay! Read the full story here.

On other teapallish related news, I met with the Tiong Bahru tea peeps again for another tea tasting session but forgot to take pictures of a very lovely afternoon gathering where we sampled a beguiling Darjeeling tea that tasted like white tea, a honey-sweet Phoenix Dancong, a complex Tieguanyin, a rich and fruity Lapsang Soucong, a robust Big Red Robe and an earthy Imperial Puerh. Yum.

Oh and I have since “graduated” from basic tea class (i.e. finish 15 lessons lah) and am now doing a 1-year (!) intermediate thingy where it’s more theoretical and the lao shi is telling me I should write something after each lesson, which I just did yesterday, ostensibly for another tea-related article for another website. Stay tuned for that!

T Ching Post – Tea + Cofee: A Love Story

A while back, a friend told me to go to Smitten because she thought that I would love the tea selection there. But before actually making it there, I found out that the Smitten co-owner, Hongyuan, is my tea classmate.

Anyway, I love the story behind Smitten cafe. Frankly, I think that there’s little point in poopooing coffee drinkers just because you like tea or vice versa. And I think the husband-and-wife team here have a good thing going. Read the rest of the story here!

Tea Toys

Over the past year, I’ve received some interesting tea-related gifts from friends which have made tea-drinking at home so much more fun. I thought I’d share some of these knick-knacks with you.

This tea caddy spoon is from my friend Eva, who exclaimed that this spoon from T2 was “very very expensive” for something made in China. I appreciate her generous gesture. Aren’t those floral details gorgeous?

The toy in question is actually the cutesy tea leaf infuser thing sticking out of the mug. Out of water, it looks like this. Thank you Joelee Brooklyn Babe for this! As for the mug – I actually bought this for myself (great for moody days) and can be purchased at the funky Tea Appreciation Society online store.

Sweet Lin-Li got this super adorbs Agatha’s Bester tea filter for me during her trip in London last year. Looking at it through this mug can get pretty trippy (it starts reading “TEEEEEEEEEEEA” after a while due to refraction of light).

Last but not least, my husband recently brought this back from his trip from Amsterdam. A space-age turquiose (my favourite colour) tea egg from AdHoc – it is a very therapeutic, defying-gravity sort of experience stirring this thing around but one has to be careful of spillage.

How about you? What are some of your favourite tea accessories?

A Singaporean Tea Man in London

Hello everybody, I’d like you to meet Pei, a Singaporean Tea Man in London.

I first “met” Pei through Twitter and was excited to learn that this tea-twitterer (what a mouthful) is also a Singaporean who is becoming a prety well-known tea personality in London since establishing his Teanamu business earlier in February this year.  Besides selling tea online, holding tea appreciation and tea cooking classes, he also runs Tenamu Chayu Teahouse on weekends. I had a lovely Skype chat with him the other day to find out more about his work.

How did you get interested in tea? 

When I left Singapore in 1999 to work abroad, I started thinking about who I really was as a Singaporean Chinese. As I looked back, I realised that tea was an integral part of my life – whether it was bak kut teh or teh tarik or wedding tea ceremonies. As I tried to find out more about tea ten years ago, I realise that it was such a wide subject, and taught me a lot about Chinese culture and history. Six years ago, I decided to formalize my tea training by learning under a tea master in Malaysia and went to China in 2008 to take official tea exams.

Pei’s grandpa brewing tea in his Hainanese kopitiam in Malaysia in the ’70s. 

What made you go into the tea business? 

When 9/11 happened, I was working in Dubai and then decided to move over to London to work. I found a job as a data manager at a software consultancy. I then decided to learn cooking at Cordon Bleu and discovered that I found satisfaction in doing hands-on work. At the same time, I was drinking tea and doing the gongfu tea ceremony. I decided to run informal tea workshops from home during the weekends just to keep things interesting. Soon, the British Museum invited me to give Chinese tea appreciation workshops while they were having an exhibition on the Terracotta Army. This stint gave me the confidence to set up a tea business.

Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

Why ‘Teanamu’?

I was struggling to find a tea-related domain for the business. I came across the term “teanamu”, which in Korean can mean two things depending on the pronunciation – tea trees or bamboo. Both ways, I thought it connected well to tea and Chinese culture.

What’s the tea culture like in London now? 

Tea here is becoming more fashionable now – probably due to a similar trend that is happening in the US. More people are willing to try the “classic” teas and go beyond their usual fruit teas – they are usually amazed at the aromas that come out of single estate teas. I notice there are also more hardcore tea hobbyists that are very knowledgeable about their pu’erhs and have started their own collections.

Tell us more about your concept of tea food which you serve at Chaya Teahouse.

I like to use tea flavouring and colouring in food, especially patisseries. I have things like oolong or matcha macarons. I also do a modernised take on traditional yam cha cuisine, such as cheong fun and lo mai fan.

Tea and Camphor Smoked Duck 

What’s your tea philosophy? 

To me, it doesn’t matter if tea is brewed correctly – but it must be made with kindness, mindfulness and compassion for people to enjoy the brew. To me, tea is a medium through which our lives can be enriched and it is a way to bring people together. As such, I think it is important to be embracing . When I teach my students, I tell them to refer to each other as ‘tea master’ so there will be respect to all.

Images courtesy of Pei Wang

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) 

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