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
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