Tea Loves: Kim Whye Kee

kim1

I haven’t done Tea Loves in a while, but when a young friend excitedly tells me about a new man in her life who makes teaware, that is surely a sign that a story must be told on my tea blog, right?

But as I chatted with Whye Kee, I realised that this is really a story that goes beyond tea. And yet, it is very tea. Tell you what, I’ll leave him to tell his story.

Hi Whye Kee! What made you go into pottery?
In 2007, I picked pottery up in the last few months in prison. I spent 10 years of my youth in jail and towards the end of my sentence, my father passed away and I could not stop thinking about it. I signed up for pottery class in prison because I thought it would take my mind off things and true enough, when I did pottery, I would go into this quiet zone I could not get anywhere else. I spent all my time creating and studying pottery.

A vase I made was displayed at a Yellow Ribbon art exhibition and some people noticed it. One of them  was Chen KeZhan, an established abstract ink and wash painter. Eventually, when I was released in 2008, KeZhan encouraged me to study art formally and he sponsored part of my fine arts degree at LASALLE.

What made you go into teaware?
I only just started making them this year to challenge myself. Teaware is the hardest form of pottery. If you look at a tea pot, there are so many parts to it and everything has to fit. Nothing can be missed.

But it’s also because drinking tea reminds me of KeZhan. Whenever I go to his place, he’ll serve me some fancy tea like pu’erh with ginseng in antique Chinese teaware. I find it very touching because he is like a teacher to me and I should be the one serving tea to him. But he serves me tea with his own style of doing the tea ceremony and it’s executed with such grace.

kim2

What have you learned about tea so far?
Tea has a deep taste. When I drink it, I’m reminded of nature and memories of hiking.

But I don’t really think a lot while drinking it. Recently, I went to Korea to learn more about tea and teaware there and met up with a tea friend I made from Instagram and we sat down and drank for four hours. I did find that session quite challenging but I was also very touched by his hospitality and generosity.

And then I realised that people being passionate about tea is very much like why I had so many tattoos done all over my body when I was younger. You want to get strength from something other than yourself. Also, it’s the process of brewing tea slowly that calms you down and not so much the drink itself.

kim3

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Whye Kee!

p/s: He’ll be selling his range of terracotta, stoneware and porcelain teaware soon – for the latest updates, join his Qi Pottery Facebook page.

Images courtesy of Bernice Wong

Sitting in at a Tea Sommelier Course

In July, Julie kindly invited me to check out the first Singapore run of the Australian Tea Masters Certified Tea Sommelier Course held at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability (e2i).

I dropped in on the 2nd day of the two-day course and had so much fun! While the course is positioned for F&B professionals who want to find out more about specialty tea, it’s really for anyone who wants to find out more about appreciating and serving good tea.

teatrain1

Julie and Sharyn (founder of Australian Tea Masters) were the instructors for the course but they also brought in some tea-loving F&B people to share their knowledge as well (more on that later). What I like most about the way these two ladies deliver tea knowledge is the hands-on approach – there’s lots of tasting, looking, feeling of tea leaves and plenty of pretty photos to help participants really get in touch with a wide array of tea and tea service options. They explain everything simply (none of the over-the-top descriptions, they just really love tea!) and encourage participants to share their tasting notes with every brew they sample.

teatrain2

Besides getting some tips on cold-brewing tea from Darren Chang of Necessary Provisions (and his tea-expert wife Hongyuan), there was also an awesome tea & food pairing session with Dave Lim of Sun Ray/Parchmen & Co. Above is a Warm Duck Salad with Balsamic Vinagrette with an amazingly complex Uganda CTC (cold-dripped with a My Dutch coffee maker).

teatrain3

My favourite part was coming up with creative tea beverages with Carel Soo of Flavors Atelier – the whole idea of using liquids of different densities to create multi-coloured drinks is definitely something I’ll try the next time there’s a small party at my place!

Towards the end of the course, Sharyn encouraged us to come up with our own tea-food pairing menu and it was lovely to hear all the scrumptious combinations (many of the participants own or work for  cafes….it would be lovely seeing these menus become a reality at some point!)

The course also comes with a huge bag of tea samples and a comprehensive “Course in Tea Sommerlier Book”. As someone who is sometimes an educator, I’d say that this is a course that has been carefully thought-out and provides a good balance of theoretical and practical knowledge.

Official course description:
Conducted by Certified Tea Masters and Tea Trainers of Australian Tea Masters, the 17-hour structured course seeks to enhance the skills and knowledge of F&B professionals in providing professional advice, selection, preparation and service of specialty tea. It provides an overview of the commodity’s history, biology, origins, production methods and impact of terroir, which refers to the soil, climate, altitude and location of the plantation upon which the tea is grown. The trainers will guide learners on tea selection process using sensory evaluation skills, specialized tea preparation techniques, tea and food pairing with high-standard tea sommelier service to elevate dining experiences.

The Australian Tea Masters Singapore will also be running Certified Tea Blending and Certified Tea Master courses in Singapore. Very exciting!

For more information on these tea courses, please contact Australian Tea Masters Singapore at julie@australianteamasters.com.au

Tea in Tokyo (in Six Haikus)

Last month, I had a fantastic trip to Tokyo with family and while most of it centred around theme park rides, I managed to hastily check out two highly-recommended tea spots. And because there are a couple of writing deadlines looming over me, I don’t feel like churning out copious amounts of text right now. If you don’t mind, this post will be done haiku-style!

CHACHANOMA

tokyo1

So hard to find; when
found, told to sit and nibble
crunchy Sencha leaves 

tokyo2

delighted with sweets
that are not too sweet and still 
let tea play with tongue

tokyo3

this tea makes my soul
unfold to taste the sweetness 
of a rainy day

CHA GINZA

tokyo4

Upstairs, I sit down
alone, I am a leaf that
reaches towards light

tokyo5

Downstairs, I hold my 
wallet tight as it tries to 
fly to the cashier

tokyo6pink rice flour transforms
from sticky to sacred on  
magical glass shard

Tea Loves: Julie Wang of Australian Tea Masters

julie1

Julie is an Instagram friend who has become a real-life friend because we bonded over – what else – tea! I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a sublime tea session over at her place and there really couldn’t be a better person to finally bring awesomely legit tea courses to Singapore.

That’s right, Julie is now a Training Director with Australian Tea Masters (ATM), where she previously attained Certified Tea Master accreditation. She’s been super busy setting up a Singapore branch of ATM with an exciting series of tea courses lined up, but for now, Julie tell us more about her amazing tea journey so far.

How did you fall in love with tea?
I have always been a tea drinker but I fell in love with the world of specialty tea when I started my training with Australian Tea Masters in 2013. I recall being blown away just by the sheer variety of teas available at the training and getting my taste buds awakened to these beautiful natural flavours.

Sharyn Johnston, CEO and Founder of Australian Tea Masters was also a key influence. She opened my mind and soul to both traditional and modern ways of appreciating tea, while teaching me to respect the artistry of the tea makers.

What are your favourite teas and why?
This is hard to answer! I’m always discovering news teas or new flavour notes with new batches of tea. There are also other factors such as changing terroir and a developing palate that gets more pronounced over time. But that’s what gets me excited about tea: it’s a never-ending journey of discovery. But if I must choose a few at the moment, I go with:

Duck Shit Scent (Ya Shi Xiang) Phoenix Dan Cong
I was initially repelled by its name until I tasted it. The complexity of the tea, starting from the lifted aromas of stonefruits and the finishing of a lingering sweetness, is just beautiful! It’s one of the teas that I love serving to my guests who are unfamiliar with the range of tea. I enjoy observing how their reaction changes from repulsion to amazement after tasting this tea.

Gyokuro
I love this because of its intense umami-ness! A good grade Gyokuro can taste almost like a savoury soup and it’s very versatile. You can steep it over ice, brew it warm or even season the steeped leaves with some yuzu sauce for an appetizing cold dish.

Wenshan Pouchong
This tea holds a special place in my heart because I tasted it during my first visit to a tea farm. This farm was in Pinglin, Taiwan and it produced an award-winning Pouchong. The tea leaves had just been picked the day before my visit and hadn’t been sorted yet. But I wanted this tea so badly that we ended up huddling on the ground together with the tea master to sort out the leaves from the stems. The freshness of the tea was unbelievable and came through without any need for fancy brewing equipment.

julie2.JPG

Tell us more about these lovely tea parties for that you regularly organise for friends.
In the words of tea author, Ling Wang, “Whenever friends and family sit around a table, a cup of tea will lend its rich aroma and warm presence to any occasion.” I also enjoy introducing specialty tea to the uninitiated. Food and tea pairing or infusing tea into food make great conversation starters.

Before, I found it quite challenging to get good quality tea-infused foods off-the-shelf, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t bake to save my life. But because I couldn’t get those crazy tea recipe ideas out of my head, I just had to learn to do it myself. So I really have tea to thank for motivating me to hone my baking skills!

My Hojicha Cheesecake and Thai Milk Tea Cookies are pretty much loved by my friends as I emphasise on bringing out those distinctive tea notes. As I have a good number of guests who don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I also started to experiment with tea-infused savoury dishes with the favourites being the Da Hong Pao Smoked Chicken in Mini Chia Seed Rolls (which takes about two days to prepare) and a 12-hour Lapsang Souchong Ajitsuke Tamago – my take on our humble herbal tea egg.

What do you hope to communicate to people about tea as a Training Director with Australian Tea Masters?
I hope to connect more people to the charming world of specialty tea with its myriad of aromas and flavours. The humble Camellia Sinensis plant has been life changing for me. Its subtlety has made me stop and take time to appreciate the little things in life and the wonders of nature. I hope tea can do that for other people too.

With ATM, I hope to make high quality specialty tea more accessible to everyone, especially when one is dining out at a café or restaurant. As much as we have great specialty coffee in Singapore and around the region, tea is still generally very much an afterthought. However, I truly believe in its  potential to elevate the dining scene in this region.

Also, we hope to give tea professionals here the recognition and credibility that they deserve, just as one would with the coffee baristas and wine sommeliers. We will be launching the Certified Tea Sommelier course in Singapore on 30 and 31 July. This is only programme in the world that is in accordance with the Australian government-approved standards.

What was going through Australian Tea Masters Certified Tea Master programme like?
It was pretty intense with three full days of on-site training in Australia and after that, having to juggle a full-time job with 14 weeks of assignments back in Singapore. However, it was also very enjoyable as I got to taste and evaluate so many teas over the course. I joined the programme because I was looking for a structured way to learn about teas from all around the world. I also wanted to learn about professional tea service, which I feel does not really exist in Singapore.

How did that eventually lead to you bringing Australian Tea Masters to Singapore?
While there were many offers to Sharyn for the overseas expansion of Australian Tea Masters (ATM), I was very privileged that she decided to work with me for ATM’s first branch office. I guess we share the same passion for specialty tea and the genuine desire to help the F&B operators in the region with professional tea service. Singapore is also a natural choice as a regional hub for tea education and training given its convenient location and ideal business climate.

We are very heartened by the launch of ATM Singapore at the recent Café Asia 2016. Response was fantastic and we are humbled by the public confidence in us. We are also very honoured to have been invited by Food & Hotel Asia 2016 to conduct two mini-tea courses in April. With the Global Tea Menu course, students get to taste and evaluate teas around the world and learn to develop their own tea menu for their business. In the Hands-on Basic Tea Blending course, students will learn about the type of botanicals and flavours which can be added to create a great tea blend and they will even get to make their own blends.

What are your tips on getting the most out of your tea drinking experience?
Any tea connoisseur will be able to tell you that the selection of tea leaves, leaves to water ratio, type of water, temperature, brewing equipment and brewing time will all affect the taste of tea. But I also believe the state of mind is important to create and appreciate a beautiful brew. A distracted mind will not be able to focus on these variables, nor allow the senses to fully appreciate the subtle aromas and flavours. It’s so important to allow yourself to set aside time to slowly brew and fully savour tea.

What do you hope to change about the tea culture in Singapore?
I would like to make specialty, single origin teas more relatable and exciting while still emphasising on the importance of detail, craft, skill and respect to a tea’s origin.

This is exactly what is now being done at the award-winning Cartel Roasters Brew Bar in Geelong, Australia. It is owned and managed by Sharyn’s son, Nathan James Johnston. He is not just a coffee legend; he has also been shaking up the tea scene with his mother by serving up high quality and rare specialty tea in the most innovative ways such as using the Steampunk brewing machine or the Chemex coffeemaker to coax out those fresh tea flavours. I would like to see such things happening in Singapore too.

Tea is…
… a journey of serendipity that enthralls the soul.

Connect with Julie on Instagram at @julieteabits
Find out more about Australia Tea Masters here.

Images courtesy of Julie Wang

Review: Infusion-de-vie, Organic Chinese Tea with Herbs

Earlier this year, I tried to make my own Eight Treasures tea for Chinese New Year, and while it made a rather pretty Instagram picture, it tasted pretty gross and I discreetly chose not to blog about it (till now).

herby.jpg

Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea with chrysanthemum, rose, goji berries, dried orange peel, red dates, longan and rock sugar.

Interestingly enough, while talking to Siong, one of the founding partners of new tea brand Infusion-de-vie, he told me that a TCM physician from Taiwan had told them to keep their Chinese tea/herb blends to just a maximum of three ingredients. And in line with my whole let’s-keep-things-simpler mantra of the moment, this sounds like wise advice!

infuse1

Last week, I received a box of their Rejuvenate blend (S$32 for 5 sachets, each sachet can last up to 5 rounds) just before the festive frenzy. How timely because as the resident grinch, this time of the year can get especially draining. This organic concoction consists of Taiwan Yilan black tea leaves, sun-baked goji berries and Astragulus roots (huang qi). I was surprised at the woody sweet intensity of flavours with just 6-7 minute brews (am used to boiling my herbal soups for at least an hour) and was also intrigued by the whole concept of this tea brand.

“There are so many tea brands coming out these days and we were wondering how we could make our tea business stand out. I’m a very health-conscious person, and also someone who has a deep respect for Chinese culture, so I thought that doing organic Chinese tea blends that also include organic herbs might appeal to a wider base of customers,” Siong explained.

While it’s only just been launched a few months ago, there has apparently been a healthy flow of orders coming in without doing any aggressive marketing as yet. Good on them! Perhaps it’s their lovely packaging and creative, nourishing blends which most Chinese are not strangers to, but would find refreshing to drink as tea. For example,they also sell blends such as Revitalise (Taiwan Yilan Oolong Tea & Premium White Ginseng, S$48) as well as Refresh (White Chrysanthemum & Sun-baked Goji Berries, S$32).

infusion2

infusion3

Another driving force for coming up with Infusion-de-vie was the discovery from a CCTV news report that most Chinese herbs sold today are preserved with sulphur which can harm the respiratory system. As such, all the ingredients in Infusion De Vie’s blends are certified organic by Taiwan MOA International, German Kiwa BCS Oko-Garantie GmbH and French Ecocert SA.

– You can buy Infusion-de-vie products from their website – they do international shipping.

– You can join the Infusion-de-vie FB page here to get a 10% discount from their Raffles Place pushcart (details below)!

-They are also retailed in Singapore and China at the following places:

China

1. Yue Zi Ge 悦子阁
858 Yuyuan Rd, Changning, Shanghai, China
上海市长宁区愚园路858号

2. Tian Lu 天露
Unit 105, Block A, 176 Zhujiang Rd, Suzhou, China
江苏省苏州市常熟市176号珠江路玉坤国贸广场A座105

3. Louis Canton 壕爷
289 Guangzhou Middle Road, Nanfang 289 Art Space, Guangzhou, China
广州市广州大道中289号南方289艺术园一楼大厅

4. Cafe Spoon
Unit A13, Mall of the World (South Zone), Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou, China
广州市珠江新城花城汇南A13区号

Singapore

1. Pies & Coffee @ Robertson Walk
11 Unity Street, #01-25, Robertson Walk, Singapore 237995

2. Pies & Coffee @ The Grandstand
200 Turf Club Road, #01-10, Singapore 288794

3. The Tuckshop / The Recess
403 Guillemard Road, Singapore 399795

4. Pushcart @ Basement One, Raffles Exchange
Raffles Place MRT Station
5 Raffles Place, Singapore 048618

 

 

Remember Ming Exhibition

kenny1

I was talking to some tea people a few days ago and came to the conclusion that we all were drawn to this drink while searching for more grounding in our lives.

For Kenny, another tea friend, he takes this further by looking at the larger historical and cultural context behind Chinese tea. It’s something that he became interested in five years ago, and he’s been utterly passionate about wanting to share this knowledge and appreciation with more people. Last year, he had a tenmoku tasting session (which I wrote about here) and this year, he’s broadened this to a three-day exhibition titled Remember Ming, featuring tea, handcrafted ceramics, Han ethnic clothing, and incense.

kenny2

I dropped by this afternoon for a talk and learned so many new things, such as the suppression of Han ethnic clothing during the Qing Dynasty and the poetic philosophy behind incense production. The sub-head of this exhibition is “the old is new again” and I find it to be such a fitting way to capture Kenny’s holistic reverence for these traditional cultural products which most of us take for granted. It may not be the trendiest or most profitable project to embark on, but he has certainly utilised his talents and experience well with Remember Ming.

As someone who loves tea, I appreciate how this drink has given me more exposure to the Chinese culture and language. And today, this exhibition provided a fitting reminder that even though I grew up in a Westernised environment, it does not mean eschewing everything else that is not. There are always things to learn.

kenny3.jpg

If you feel like you need a time-out from the festive hustle and bustle, this cultural exhibition might make a nice change. The exhibition is free and will be happening this weekend (19-20 December 2015) from 11am-7pm at Tian Fu Tea Room (Park Royal Beach Road). There are 2-hour talks happening at 11am and 3pm on both days – admission is $45 and comes with tea and dim sum.

For more information, please visit the event website here.

Images courtesy of Erwin Tan

Tea’s a Company

tc1I love drinking tea with a friend – just one – and being able to talk about life intimately and honestly. It is especially magical when said friend is Liz Steel, a legendary (and lovely) urban sketcher who chronicled our time together with such beautiful illustrations. What’s interesting is that with this record, I can even remember what she said at each tea/dish. Given how life seems to whizz by so quickly these days, I’m inspired by her to record more. I don’t really blog regularly these days but you can find my random thoughts on-the-go at @melanderings if you find my posts here too dated😉

tc2

I love drinking tea with a group of tea-loving friends. I appreciate their grace in brewing tea and attention to aesthetic detail (see @pekoeimp as well as @julieteabits). The ambient chatter makes the tea taste sweeter, and there are always new things to learn (would like to hunt down some Sparrow Tongue green tea soon). We may all be in very different stages of our lives, and possibly very different wavelengths when it comes to religion or politics, but in this space, we are comfortable, accepting company.

tc3

I love drinking tea alone. I consider it a blessing that a client’s office was near one of my favourite tea/Thai places, and so I’ve spent countless afternoons here this year winding down, clearing my head, reflecting and regrouping. At this point of my life, mess (in both bad and fun forms) is really the default state on most days. Tea in solitude has given me the much-needed pockets of clarity I need.

How about you? How has tea been your companion? I would love to hear from you!

Previous Older Entries