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).

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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!

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 ;)

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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.

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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!

The TEAnager of Cliff Three

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When Eunice first contacted me over e-mail to invite me to try her family’s tea label Cliff Tree, I somehow developed an impression she would have medium-length Korean-permed hair and wear a pencil skirt from her polite and meticulous way of writing. Instead, I met a girl with a bob in jeans who didn’t look older than 20.

It turns out that Eunice is just 19. She is taking a year off before going to university to try setting up this business because she “just likes tea very much” after years of drinking Chinese tea with her family. Her uncle in Malaysia is a famous tea master, and introduced her family to a tea producer in Wuyi mountains. They somehow worked out a deal such that her family would be the distributor of his tea in Singapore (which is a real privilege as yan cha – or cliff tea- is in limited supply these days).

Her father, who also has just decided to set up his own business, shares an office space with her and accompanies her on business meetings. “The old tea ‘uncles’ only talk to him,” she told me matter-of-factly. “They just don’t trust xiaomeimeis (little sisters).” However, the truth of the matter is that Eunice is pretty much running the whole show and the rest of her family treat it as a fun family project (for example, her brother helped to set up their online store).

There’s this quiet sensibility I like about Eunice. As she recounts her story while serving me tea, there’s no whiff of trying to show off or portraying street cred. She is who she is and remains non-plussed that none of her friends her age like tea (“at most, they drink bubble tea”) or that trying to sell good Chinese tea to most Singaporeans is like pulling teeth out. She says she doesn’t know much about tea and is yearning to learn more, but the way she prepares tea shows an easy familiarity.

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This post was meant to be a tea review but I feel that meeting Eunice was probably the most interesting part of this tea tasting session which is why the story has morphed into this. Of course, all the cliff tea I tried was good and had distinctive mineraly notes (the Hua Xiang Rou Gui was especially delightful with this nectarine aftertaste) and I really hope that this tea brand will get more exposure. If you’d like a tasting session before buying any of their cliff teas, do contact Eunice the TEAnager at cliffthree [AT] outlook [DOT] com

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Four Festive Teas

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Christmas celebrations really do get hardcore don’t they? As you might know, I’m more or less a Christmas grinch but I tried to minimise aggravation this year by buying Christmas presents a month in advance so I would avoid all the crazy crowds that have me in a tizzy.

Nevertheless, hustle and bustle cannot be avoided and that’s where soothing tea comes in. And even though I hardly ever update this poor little tea blog, I received a bounty of fun festive teas from Tea Traders Company and Lupicia to bring cheer this claustrophobic season. Their sweet generosity even got me to create a Christmas greeting banner on this blog (SO not me), which goes to show how good vibes can neutralise even the grumpiest of people.

Here are my four favourite tea blends this festive season (L-R) which will make lovely gifts and/or post-feast hot beverage:

CAROL (Limited Edition by Lupicia): Black tea with strawberry, vanilla, rose petals and coconut flakes. Recommended to be drunk with milk but I had it “kosong” and was surprised how the coconut flavour gives the tea this lovely creaminess to it. Of course it also smells like something I wish I had as a moisturising cream.

DARK CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT (Art of Tea – a lovely new range of subtly-blended, organic teas that Tea Traders Co has just brought in). I’m generally very wary of chocolate-flavoured teas. It’s kind of like how I think coffee-flavoured teas are pointless. But this pu-erh blend really works, mostly because there’s no fake cloying sweetness. Just hints of cocoa notes that go so well with the earthy tea base and a lovely peppermint tang at the end. Pu-erh puritans – you just might find this a delight.

MANDARIN SILK (Art of Tea): A sure crowd-pleaser to go with Christmas fruit cake. This blend was the winner of the Best Flavoured Oolong at the World Tea Expo, Specialty Tea Institute and Tea Association of America. I like its citrus notes combining with the floral oolong though I did find the vanilla a bit strong. I’m definitely saving some of this for Chinese New Year.

JINGLE BELLS (Lupicia): Enough of the bubbly champagne? This black tea with cranberry makes a lovely, low-sugar substitute. The tea is a light black tea, which brings out the “grapiness” of this blend really well. Lupicia, being a Japanese brand, absolutely nails that grape flavouring and aroma really well without being too cloying or fake and I really could just stick my nose in a cup of Jingle Bells for a really long time. I’m thinking of cold-brewing it and adding some rock sugar syrup and frozen halved grapes for an upcoming gathering. Will tell you how that goes!

The best thing about all these teas? They can be bought online (click on the links) and delivered right to your doorstep.

Review: Revisiting White & Raw Teas (from Teavivre)

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Many years ago, a friend served a pot of white tea after dinner at her place. It was my first exposure to Chinese tea beyond Chineserestaurantstuff, and I was intrigued that such a tea could exist. As such, I’ve always had a soft spot for white tea, even if some of my recent experiences with (flavoured) white tea have left a  bad taste in my mouth.

So when Teavivre offered to send me white tea samples, I was game (especially since I’ve really enjoyed reviewing their teas here and here). Besides that they also popped in two raw pu-erhs in the mix as well. It was a lovely, soothing tasting session and here are my thoughts:

1

Organic Silver Needle: I started with this first thinking it would be the lightest. But frankly, everything else paled in comparison after this. It was unforgettable. The sweetness! The smoothness! Upon my first sip, I felt this urge to caress these dear leaves, which were kind of cute because they were also so plump and furry. This is definitely one of the better Silver Needle tea I’ve had in my life, and I was actually surprised at how fresh the tea tasted given I received this package three months ago (oops). Besides its lovely steamed chestnut notes (so much nuttier than other Silver Needle teas I’ve had in the past), I also got hints of greengrapiness…I don’t know why but I thought of those Little Twin Star bonbons I used to get at birthday parties. Do they still sell those?

2

Organic White Peony: Poor fella here faced some stiff competition. While it is a heavier white tea, it really tasted much flatter in comparison to the Silver Needle. But it’s really a great quality bai mu dan. For one, there were these lovely dewy grassy notes to it and I love its dark green leafy colour. I would say it makes a great “starter” white tea.

3

Fuding Shou Mei 2013: This aged white tea, which came in a cake form, intrigued me. I felt like it tasted like raisins and cinnamon, and that was a very pleasant surprise.  I reckon this would taste really good with Christmas rum cake! Though of course, given how this tea is relatively light, it’s best enjoyed on its own!

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Fengqing Raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2006: A robust, honeyed brew. I think this is a tea that really showcases the good features of raw pu-erh. It’s much lighter than the usual aged pu-erh but still has plenty of depth. I detected woody, plummy, grassy hay notes.

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Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha: Unfortunately, I felt that the natural, mellow taste of the pu-erh was masked by the jasmine. However, this is really a lovely jasmine flavour. I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid perfume and it brought back (happy) memories of dimsum high teas. For jasmine tea fans, this is a tea blend you could explore.

Kicking Back with Keiko

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While I’m more of a Chinese tea person (now), I’ve never lost my fascination with Japanese tea. I love Gyokuro and Genmaicha and I still have many lovely memories of drinking the freshest, tastiest sencha in Shizuoka all those years ago. I was invited by Kaylin, another tea-loving Singaporean who is distributing Keiko Japanese Green Tea in Singapore. Keiko is a German-Japanese tea brand that has a plantation in Kagoshima in Southern Japan. It’s supposed to be a really fertile area because there’s an active volcano nearby. Their teas are also Certifie Agriculture Biologique organic-certified and is also packed using some high-tech method involving nitrogen to retain freshness (sorry, these techie things I tend to gloss over). But yes, some excellent quality tea here! 

This week, I wanted to wind down after some crazy work stuff and was so glad to have this little tea tasting session in the middle of the week with Kaylin. I also got acquainted with some other Japanese teas which I’ve had little exposure to during this session. Here’s what I sampled: 

Sencha: This gave me an idea that I was in for some really good teas ahead. It was a smooth, almost milky green tea that left a slight apricot aftertaste. 

Kabuse No. 2: Kabuse is a semi-shaded type of green tea that is known for its sweetness and aroma. It is not as “umami” as a gyokuro, but it definitely has its charm. It reminded me a bit of a green bean soup dessert, very drinkable and refreshing. 

Shincha: This is a rare batch of early spring tea that is actually fluorescent green. Interestingly enough, there’s this slight citrus afternote – a taste profile I’d never expect for a Japanese green tea but oh well, you learn something new everyday!

Tenbu Fuka: I really like this tea, it packs in a super umami punch! The Tenbu Fuka is plucked in mid-April and has a dark green liquor colour because it has been intensively steamed. 

Benifuuki: This tea is supposed to have a really high content of EGCG3 (the antioxidant that green tea is known for) which is supposed to help with sinus allergies. It’s also the most bitter of the lot – apparently, many Japanese love this tea and drink copious amounts of it before winter season starts. 

Kabuse Genaicha + Matcha: My absolute favourite of the lot – I bought a box home and it’s my morning “start-up” drink now! Kaylin pointed out that even the roasted rice puffs in this tea are organic. Might I also add that they are also incredibly fun to crunch on after I’m done brewing the tea ;) Usually, Genmaicha can get pretty weak on the green tea part, but because of the matcha, this tea really packs in a punch and is a beautiful dark jade colour. 

Kabuse Houjicha: This roasted tea is very malty and caramelled ( “mass houjicha” served in Korean and Japanese restaurants and sold in Daiso pales in comparison in terms of intensity of flavour) and I love the slightly bitter vanilla notes at the end. I would like to try this iced sometime with perhaps a little drizzle of honey! 

Overall, I really enjoyed my first Keiko experience and it’s actually pretty affordable too with prices ranging from USD$9.60-48.10 for a 50gm box. Again, SO HAPPY more great tea is making its way to Singapore!

WHERE YOU CAN BUY KEIKO TEAS: 

– Their online store (For Singapore, there’s free delivery for orders above USD$30)

– ISETAN supermarkets at Scotts Orchard and Westgate Mall

– Selected health shops such as That Health Shop (Roxy Square) and Lins Healing Concierge (Valley Point). 

*From 1-14 Sept 2014, there’ll be a Keiko tea booth at the Level 2 Atrium of Westgate Mall where you can sample and purchase their teas! Do drop by if you happen to be shopping there! 

And lastly, feel free to join their Facebook page and/or Instagram page (@keikoexperiece) for all kinds of Japanese tea trivia and pretty pics. 

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