Review: Chinese Teas from TeaVivre

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I got a lovely surprise in the beginning of the year – a little box of tea samples of TeaVivre, an up and coming online tea retailer who is REALLY serious about tea. Just check any of their product pages and you get encyclopaedic information about each tea variant – such a wonderful resource.

This was the time I was also trying to sort out my teaware, so in this review, you’ll also get to see some of my tea utensils :)

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Superfine Taiwan Moderately-Roasted Dong Ding Oolong

The first tea I tried was their Superfine Taiwan Moderately-Roasted Dong Ding Oolong. I’m trying to be more open to darker teas these days, and I think this was the perfect tea to bridge over to “the dark side”! It’s mellow and toasty, and I was pleasantly surprised by its sweetness as I was expecting something more earthy. I was also particularly frazzled that day and this tea was perfect in helping me to chill out a little.

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Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui

The second tea I tried was their Premium Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea. Initially, I was a little suspicious about how these broad tea leaves were able to fit into the smallish packaging but when I opened it, I was greeted with sweet-smelling, intact tea leaves. This was also delightful to drink – with a creamy texture and this (for lack of better word) sweetbeany taste. A little tip for drinking this tea: steep it in barely warm water (I did half room temperature water, half hot water – sorry, no thermometer to tell you the temperature)  to slowly get its goodness out!

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Superfine Taiwan Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong

The third tea I tried was the Superfine Taiwan Qing Xiang Dong Ding Oolong. I only became aware of the existence of such a tea last year, and am not surprised that it has many fans! A very easy light oolong to drink with honeyed vegetal notes and a lovely floral aroma. It also has that nice milky texture.

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Organic Superfine Dragon Well Long Jing

I remember how my friend Jill described Long Jing as “chicken soup”. With TeaVivre’s Organic Superfine Dragon Well Long Jing however, I also got raw chestnut notes along with the usual umami taste profile and I was just so besotted with the dark emerald colour of the leaves. I have friends who have stopped drinking tea because they are concerned with pesticides being sprayed on the leaves – well I’d say this would be a good option for them to make a prodigal return (the tea is certified organic by USDA, EU and JAS – it cannot get more credible than that).

Overall: I’m very impressed with the quality of teas that TeaVivre offers and how it emphasises on how one should make informed, educational choices when buying tea! And judging by the many rave reviews it’s been getting from tea bloggers all over the world, I’m not the only one :) 

Sidenote: I also feature Stella from Tea Vivre in my Tea Loves section. What a wonderful job she has!

Liebster Award Thing!

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My dear friend Dawn has just started blogging regularly and has been writing such affirming, truthful words – it comes as no surprise she got nominated for a Liebster Award! She’s now nominated me for it (thank you!) so here are my answers:

1. Blogging: true connection, attention-seeking, or simply necessary? 

True connection. I think almost everyone who blogs are looking for ways to meet more like-minded people.

2. Why do you blog? 

Probably for true connection as well – and in the years I’ve been sporadically blogging, I’m glad to have “met” people that I genuinely click with. Some I have met in real life…and they have become new friends I am grateful for to have in my life.

3. Describe your blog in three words. 

Tea. Thoughts. Trying.

4. Describe yourself in three words. 

Dreamy. Melancholic. Hopeful.

5. You’re in an awful mood. Who is the first person you call to cheer you up?

I actually try not to call anybody up when I’m blue. I feel it’s something that I need to process in solitude first.

6. Describe your idea of a perfect day.

8-10 hours of sleep.

7. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

South America. Because it is a beautiful continent and will challenge all my hang-ups.

8. Given the choice, you would like a year’s supply of _______?  

Having a swimming pool right by my doorstep.

9. If you could spend a day with one person, living or dead, who would it be, and why?

Anyone who has a sense of humour, is open-minded, willing to share his/her life experiences and is a good listener.

10. Truth is ________.

Everyone has their own truths.

Tea Loves: Stella Yan

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Stella (left) at Mengding Organic Tea Garden in Sichuan, China with an 85-year-old tea picker.

I’ve made another tea acquaintance! Stella is from China and does social media marketing for online tea retailer TeaVivre. She recently contacted me to do a tea review (I’m still getting round that, immensely enjoying the samples so far), and was so nice about catering to my tea preferences, I thought I would feature her on Tea Loves! She tells us about why she loves her tea job so much.

Why did you want to work in the tea industry?

I have been working at TeaVivre for more than five years, and helped to build an online presence for this brand internationally. I’m a tea lover and I wanted to work in the tea industry to broaden my tea knowledge. Furthermore, China has some of the best quality teas. By bringing premium Chinese teas to tea lovers all around the world, I can share this tea experience with other people, while also learning more about teas in other countries.

What is your favourite tea and why?

My favourite is Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Tea. It grows at an altitude of over 1,000 metres. As a result, this tea is naturally aromatic, mellow and brisk; and it can be steeped several times without losing its flavour.

What is your tea ritual like?

Every morning, I love to start work with a cup of green tea. For leisure, I enjoy sipping a cup of oolong while reading a book under the warm afternoon sun. When I have friends visiting, I will share my tea collection with them.

What’s the best and worst thing about working in the tea industry?

The best thing would be meeting tea lovers from all over the world. We talk about tea and exchange ideas about tea. It is very satisfying to see more and more tea lovers praising TeaVivre’s products and services.

The worst part about my job would be shipping delays due to holidays or other reasons we cannot control. I get as anxious as the customers waiting for their packages!

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

I often see people regarding expensive tea as good tea, resulting in tea getting more expensive in the market e.g. pu-erh tea getting hyped up to ten thousand yuan a cake. However, in my opinion, choosing a tea should be based on your taste preferences. Quality is more important than price.

What are your tips on what makes a “good” tea then?

The leaf quality, water temperature, steeping time, amount of tea, and even the maker’s emotion all come into play. Generally, I think good tea should just be your favourite tea.

Tea is …

Tea is like life. It tastes thin at first, then builds up in character, and gradually reaches its strongest point. After that peak period, it will slowly become light, and finally loses all its flavour.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating tea thoughts with us, Stella! :)  

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

Meeting Liz Steel for Tea

One of the most popular posts on this blog is my Tea Loves interview with Liz Steel. I’m guessing it’s because of all her beautiful tea sketches! (I’ve also written about her on T Ching.)

I finally had to chance to meet her in real life when she swung by Singapore last week and we had a lovely tea tasting session at Tea Bone Zen Mind (TBZM).

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TBZM’s owner, Carrie, was so enchanted by her sketching; she said it was refreshing to look at “art without ego” (I guess she expressed it a lot more poetically than how I yap about Liz’s “happy drawings”). She kindly let us try many special things, including an aged 40-year-old kukicha and an intriguing tea salt infusion!

I’m glad I introduced the two like-minded ladies to each other – both tea lovers and inspiring artists in their own right :)

Top Tea Moments of 2013

Oh my! Yet another year is coming to an end. I am drinking Longjing tea right now while trying to come up with a sum-up post of sorts. I am also trying to come up with some healthy new-year resolutions involving tea. But in the meantime, here are my favourite moments with tea this year:

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My first cup of tea in Taipei.
I was terribly groggy. I’d just gone bookshop shopping at Eslite. I sat down in this little basement stall of a shopping mall where a guy very carefully brewed a mug of Shan Lin Xi oolong using thermometers, measuring cups and ceramic teaware. And I sipped it very slowly while browsing through my new books.

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Tea grazing.
One of my most relaxing 2013 afternoons with casual tea tasting with the ladies of Pekoe & Imp. If you don’t already know by now, Imp is pretty slick in tea brewing and uses both cheem algebra and mystical “leaf coaxing” to come up with some lovely teas.

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Using my most expensive teaware for the first time.
I bought a Hakka Blue Pear Pot Set as a Christmas present for myself after attending the Tea Time in Taiwan fair. I’m not sure if it was psychological, but I thought I came up with a pretty exquisite brew of Tieguanyin and my non-tea husband also felt very happy drinking from this very pretty tea set.

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Pomelo tea at Cafe Pal.
It was a rainy day and this was the perfect pulpy tangy hot drink after some awesome Thai food and catching up with an old friend.

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Iced lychee oolong at Tea Bone Zen Mind.
It was a scorching hot afternoon. I always buy several bags of of lychee oolong back after every visit!

Review: Newby Teas (and their Christmas pop-up shop)

Update: I also have a very cool interview with the Newby Teas founder on T Ching! Do check that out as well :)

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Courtesy of Newby of London (Featured tea: Oriental Sencha)

I’m really happy to hear that another premium tea brand has made its way to this small, caffeinated island. We could always do with more  good tea – and Newby of London has the track record of serving up many delightful cuppas. It was established in 2000 and has loyal customers that include the three Royal Castles in Stockholm, 7-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai and the offices for the President and Prime Minister in Poland. It has also won around 85 awards from the North America Tea Championship and the British Great Taste Awards.

But that aside, Newby’s founder, Mr. Nirmal Sethia has a genuine love of tea (he even has an extensive collection of tea antiques and is a tea history buff). You can get a sense of his passion for tea in these interviews here:

Mr. Sethia sharing his tea journey with a TV channel in Kazakhstan

Mr. Sethia showing his antiques at Channel New Asia’s AM LIVE! show

(I love how he says, “Good tea is like a beautiful woman who is not to be judged by her appearance.”)

The new Singapore team from Newby of London kindly sent over some samples for me to try. I tried their Hunan Green Tea and the Kan-Junga Tea with the ladies from Pekoe & Imp, so there’s a bit of input from them as well (including ripping the pyramid bags to drink the tea loose leaf heh).

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Hunan Green, Kan-Junga

Hunan Green Tea (Ling Luo Chun): According to Jacq, this type of tea is all the rage in London now. We all agreed that this was a decent Chinese green tea with strong grassy notes. However, the amount was on the scarce side (to brew it Chinese tea ceremony style at least) so we only got a few sips of it between the three of us.

Kan-Junga: A sweet, muscatel black tea from Himalaya that we unanimously took a strong liking to. In fact, HY loved it so much she ordered Jacq to brew her a huge mug of it after the tasting. Jacq said it was “comparable to a Margaret’s Hope 2nd Flush Darjeeling” (I think that’s a good thing). I dig it too so I’m including a close-up shot of it here – please try it someday!

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Courtesy of Newby of London

Here are the other teas I tried from Newby on my own:

Darjeeling: I also really liked this! It had the typical muscatel notes, but also had this subtle woodiness that gave it a bit of a kick. There was this faint clove-like fragrance emanating from the steeped leaves which I found fascinating.

Jasmine Blossom: I think I’ve kind of “gotten over” Jasmine teas in general, so for me, I felt I would rather want to taste the actual tea as opposed to the strong floral aftertaste. However, for Jasmine tea fans, this would really make a lovely brew (it had these beautiful whole white Jasmine blossoms sprinkled in it too, so very pretty).

Peppermint: I’ve tried a lot of peppermint teas, and this has become one of my favourites. I’m seeing how I can arrange to buy a large supply of this! There was this natural sweetness to it, and had a stronger minty aroma compared to other mint teas I’ve tried, which absolutely goes down in my books!

Rooibos Tiramisu: Yep, I think I’m definitely off flavoured blends (and also am not a Tiramisu person). Generally, I prefer rooibos just with good ol’ honey and a squeeze of lemon. But I appreciate  the creativity of this blend with bits of barley malt, cocoa beans, roasted chicory root and white chocolate – the Tiramisu flavour was nailed down perfectly and also had all these textured bits to make it a fun drink. I’d say this would go really well with Christmas pudding or fruitcake.

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Courtesy of Newby of London

Speaking of Christmas, if you’d like a chance to sample Newby Teas, do drop by their Christmas pop-up store at the British Club this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Here are the details:

Dates: 26 and 27 November 2013 (Tues & Wed)

Time: 10am – 5pm

Venue: The Elizabeth Suite at the British Club, 73 Bukit Tinggi Road, Singapore 289761

Contact marketing@newbyteas.sg if you would like more information. 

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