T Ching Post – Growing Up in a Tea Family + Random Updates

Remember the tea pal? I get to tell more of his story on T Ching, yay! Read the full story here.

On other teapallish related news, I met with the Tiong Bahru tea peeps again for another tea tasting session but forgot to take pictures of a very lovely afternoon gathering where we sampled a beguiling Darjeeling tea that tasted like white tea, a honey-sweet Phoenix Dancong, a complex Tieguanyin, a rich and fruity Lapsang Soucong, a robust Big Red Robe and an earthy Imperial Puerh. Yum.

Oh and I have since “graduated” from basic tea class (i.e. finish 15 lessons lah) and am now doing a 1-year (!) intermediate thingy where it’s more theoretical and the lao shi is telling me I should write something after each lesson, which I just did yesterday, ostensibly for another tea-related article for another website. Stay tuned for that!

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T Ching Post – Tea + Cofee: A Love Story

A while back, a friend told me to go to Smitten because she thought that I would love the tea selection there. But before actually making it there, I found out that the Smitten co-owner, Hongyuan, is my tea classmate.

Anyway, I love the story behind Smitten cafe. Frankly, I think that there’s little point in poopooing coffee drinkers just because you like tea or vice versa. And I think the husband-and-wife team here have a good thing going. Read the rest of the story here!

Tea Toys

Over the past year, I’ve received some interesting tea-related gifts from friends which have made tea-drinking at home so much more fun. I thought I’d share some of these knick-knacks with you.

This tea caddy spoon is from my friend Eva, who exclaimed that this spoon from T2 was “very very expensive” for something made in China. I appreciate her generous gesture. Aren’t those floral details gorgeous?

The toy in question is actually the cutesy tea leaf infuser thing sticking out of the mug. Out of water, it looks like this. Thank you Joelee Brooklyn Babe for this! As for the mug – I actually bought this for myself (great for moody days) and can be purchased at the funky Tea Appreciation Society online store.

Sweet Lin-Li got this super adorbs Agatha’s Bester tea filter for me during her trip in London last year. Looking at it through this mug can get pretty trippy (it starts reading “TEEEEEEEEEEEA” after a while due to refraction of light).

Last but not least, my husband recently brought this back from his trip from Amsterdam. A space-age turquiose (my favourite colour) tea egg from AdHoc – it is a very therapeutic, defying-gravity sort of experience stirring this thing around but one has to be careful of spillage.

How about you? What are some of your favourite tea accessories?

A Singaporean Tea Man in London

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

Why ‘Teanamu’?

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

Feeling Peachy at Momo & Moomoo

A friend’s friend (let’s call him Daniel) extended an invitation for me to have tea at Momo & Moomoo, a new cafe set up by Carrie and Kee Guan, the people from Tea Bone Zen Mind, along with another partner, Victor. David, a hardcore tea hobbyist (he even co-wrote a Tea Manual for Tea Bone Zen Mind), had heard about how much I like the drink and thought it’d be nice for us to well, talk tea. I’ve always been a fan of Tea Bone Zen Mind – their 茶叶蛋 (tea egg) is, in my opinion, the best in Singapore. More importantly, there’s a good balance of being embracing and adventurous while still having a respectful and traditional approach towards tea. In Momo & Moomoo, that essence still remains – but things feel fresher and livelier, and there’s also a new bubble tea menu, which I think is a great strategy to get more young people into this place.

This meeting came at the right time. My mind was in a rather fuzzy state after pulling a couple of late nights and the first thing I did was to order a Gyokuro, a premium grade of Japanese green tea, to clear my head. (Studies have shown that L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea, has calming properties.) It was served in this lovely set and the service staff gently explained to me the refilling procedure – apparently I have been putting way too little leaves and way too much water with my Japanese teas back home.

I’m glad to have met a like-minded tea hobbyist in David – he loves tea history (he is almost encyclopedic) and believes that tea rituals shouldn’t become such an anal/high-brow practice that only “a chosen few” are privileged enough to partake of. His take: pick up the processes which help you in making better tea e.g. warming the pot and cups so the temperature of the brew remains constant. But all the prancing and swishing about that sometimes accompanies certain tea ceremonies to make things look more exotic? Nah.

Later, Carrie showed us around the Tea Bone Zen Mind store upstairs stocked with gorgeous teaware; some pieces are even customized by Carrie herself. She also sells the tea blends served in the Momo & Moomoo cafe and explained how she uses actual fruit to flavour the teas as opposed to the conventional approach of adding flavoured oils. The result is subtler yet fresher and more authentic blends. What tea do I recommend? Their Earl Grey is really something special – do get Carrie or one of the staff there to tell you the story behind its unique alchemy (don’t want to spoil the surprise for you!) 🙂

Many thanks to my friend Jill for arranging this insightful meeting!

Momo & Moomoo is at 43 Middle Road, Tel: 6333-5400

Tea Bone Zen Mind has since shifted to 20 Hoot Kiam Road, Tel: 6334-4212

 

Getting Pally at Tea Pal

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the first kind person who invites me over for tea through this blog is someone from Tea Pal, the lifestyle arm of Nam Wan, a tea family business that has been around in Singapore since 1906. The tea pal in person is Zi Zhao – he just joined his family business after graduating not too long ago, and is fervently passionate about Chinese tea and its traditions. I learned a lot from him!

We had some really good tea throughout the conversation:

– Meng Ding Yellow Tea: A light tea to get warmed up – my take is that yellow tea is a nice in-between green and white tea and is definitely something to try if you haven’t sampled it yet.

– Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy): It had the lovely in-depth layering of floral, then leafy, then fruity notes which I love in premium Chinese oolongs. Zi Zhao is a descendant from the founders of Tieguanyin tea, so he really, really hopes this tea gets an image boost. He told us that Tea Pal has an eco-organic Tieguanyin range which I think is a great concept as tea drinkers become more discerning and increasingly concerned about pesticide issues.

– Mango Oolong: A fun tea that is a hit with the tourists. What I like is that the mango essence used has a really natural, subtle taste and complements the floral notes of the oolong. Can imagine it going well with a cream puff.

– Golden Shoots Pu Er: Really smooth and tasted more woody than soily (which is how most ‘shou’ pu er usually tastes). Apparently,  it is precioussssssssss. I was amazed that the flavour was still so rich even after 6-7 brews!

And the history geek in me did several cheerleader flips when Zi Zhao told me that the two tea canisters at the top of this tea display (see picture above) was given by Lim Keng Lian to his family. Some context: Mr Lim was like a tea community leader of sorts back in those days in Singapore, and given that I’d just talked about him at the tea talk last week, it was nice seeing his artefacts (you know, the history come to life kind of thing).

If you’d like to get a taste of what the Chinese tea ceremony is like, you can look for Christine at their MBS store. She is a lovely, graceful tea-loving lady who’d be more than happy to do a brewing demonstration for you.

Tea Pal

– Marina Bay Sands (L1-32)

– Raffles City (B1-48) 

A Tale of the Teh Tarik

Once upon a time in India, cost-saving drink sellers realised they did not have to use so much tea leaves if they added milk, sugar and spices to their tea. What’s more, the tea brew actually tasted quite nice with the addition of these ingredients. Soon, this became the national tea drink and it was called Chai (similar to the Chinese character, cha, 茶).

Many South Indians migrated to Malaya (Singapore and Malaysia) in the 19th century, and quite a number of them set up sarabat stalls to earn a living. Probably because the Malay and Chinese community may not have been used to the spices typically found in Chai tea, these enterprising Sarabat stall owners started modifying the Chai recipe – they took away the spices, they added the richer, thicker condensed milk (probably because it was easier to keep) and added some artistic flair to the preparation of the tea.

And there you have the Teh Tarik (pulled tea). The art of pulling tea – pouring the brew between two containers (usually brass mugs) is not just impressive looking, it also improves the taste of the tea by mixing the tea and condensed milk more thoroughly, giving it a smoother, creamier texture and a lovely frothy top. The pulling process also helps to cool the tea down faster.

Teh Tarik goes best with roti prata (or roti canai) on a rainy day. It is sold in most coffee shops, food courts, hawker centres and mamak stalls in Singapore and Malaysia today.

Here’s a video of a teh tarik man at work…fierce!

The information above  was adapted from the National Museum of Singapore’s Food Gallery and assorted hearsay. 

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