For a long time, I’ve been on a lookout for a place where I can learn how to serve Chinese tea properly. Sure, I’ve had that primary school “cultural appreciation” outing to some Chinese tea house where we stuff ourselves with tea eggs, and I’ve read a lot of tea books showing you the step-by-step approach with photographs. But I guess I was looking for more meat – I don’t just want to memorise the steps, but understand the philosophy, scientific principles and history behind such tea ceremony rituals at the same time. A few tea lovers told me about the meticulous lessons at The Time of Tea, a tea shop cum tea school along Mosque Street in Chinatown.
The Time of Tea is run by Ms Beljean Ong, a former tour guide who decided to go into the tea business ten years ago. She is such a passionate tea ambassador, that speaks both for her infectious personality and love for this drink. The minute I step in, she starts preparing tea for me to drink. “People say there is no tea culture in Singapore, that tea culture is the totally opposite of the busy culture here. But I really want to make a difference with The Time of Tea, to show that tea is important in our daily lives,” she said.
As such, it’s all about going back to the roots with her lessons – understanding Chinese tea culture and history, understanding the alchemy of what makes a good brew of tea, and finding that peace and sanctuary when doing the tea ceremony. She prefers to teach her students one-on-one because everyone has “a personal journey”. Ms Ong adds, “I can even tell the mood of a student just by drinking his or her tea.” Perhaps it’s this dedication that has made her classes popular with Japanese and Australian expats – in fact, the Japanese lady who was doing her lessons while I was in the store has been learning under her for 10 years!
Ms Ong believes that tea is a miraculous health drink – but only if drunk in the right way. This means no flavoured tea (which contains flavoured oil that doesn’t digest well along with the “medicinal water of tea”), no cold or iced tea, no gulping, no drinking tea with meals (at least two hours apart) and drinking the first tea brew (instead of the usual pouring it out) because that is where all the nutrients are. As such, she painstakingly sources for the Chinese tea that she sells in the store, making sure that it meets a certain standard of hygiene and taste. In a way, this can be seen as purist, but I also see it as a way of going back to the roots of tea appreciation – enjoying the tea leaves in their original state. Ms Ong says that she gets more local students now, and in fact, is encouraged by the male students who pursue this interest even though it’s not perceived socially as “macho” and the parents who send their children to learn the tea ceremony so they become more disciplined and focused.
“You don’t just get healthier while drinking good tea, you also learn a lot more about yourself when doing the tea ceremony.”
It costs $350 for 15 Elementary lessons (each lesson lasts about two hours).
The Time of Tea
38 Mosque Street
Latest update: The Time of Tea has moved and its address is No. 53 Chin Swee Road #03-11, Singapore 160053