Tea Loves: Kim Whye Kee

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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.

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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.

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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

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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Liebster Award Thing!

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My dear friend Dawn has just started blogging regularly and has been writing such affirming, truthful words – it comes as no surprise she got nominated for a Liebster Award! She’s now nominated me for it (thank you!) so here are my answers:

1. Blogging: true connection, attention-seeking, or simply necessary? 

True connection. I think almost everyone who blogs are looking for ways to meet more like-minded people.

2. Why do you blog? 

Probably for true connection as well – and in the years I’ve been sporadically blogging, I’m glad to have “met” people that I genuinely click with. Some I have met in real life…and they have become new friends I am grateful for to have in my life.

3. Describe your blog in three words. 

Tea. Thoughts. Trying.

4. Describe yourself in three words. 

Dreamy. Melancholic. Hopeful.

5. You’re in an awful mood. Who is the first person you call to cheer you up?

I actually try not to call anybody up when I’m blue. I feel it’s something that I need to process in solitude first.

6. Describe your idea of a perfect day.

8-10 hours of sleep.

7. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?

South America. Because it is a beautiful continent and will challenge all my hang-ups.

8. Given the choice, you would like a year’s supply of _______?  

Having a swimming pool right by my doorstep.

9. If you could spend a day with one person, living or dead, who would it be, and why?

Anyone who has a sense of humour, is open-minded, willing to share his/her life experiences and is a good listener.

10. Truth is ________.

Everyone has their own truths.

Top Tea Moments of 2013

Oh my! Yet another year is coming to an end. I am drinking Longjing tea right now while trying to come up with a sum-up post of sorts. I am also trying to come up with some healthy new-year resolutions involving tea. But in the meantime, here are my favourite moments with tea this year:

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My first cup of tea in Taipei.
I was terribly groggy. I’d just gone bookshop shopping at Eslite. I sat down in this little basement stall of a shopping mall where a guy very carefully brewed a mug of Shan Lin Xi oolong using thermometers, measuring cups and ceramic teaware. And I sipped it very slowly while browsing through my new books.

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Tea grazing.
One of my most relaxing 2013 afternoons with casual tea tasting with the ladies of Pekoe & Imp. If you don’t already know by now, Imp is pretty slick in tea brewing and uses both cheem algebra and mystical “leaf coaxing” to come up with some lovely teas.

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Using my most expensive teaware for the first time.
I bought a Hakka Blue Pear Pot Set as a Christmas present for myself after attending the Tea Time in Taiwan fair. I’m not sure if it was psychological, but I thought I came up with a pretty exquisite brew of Tieguanyin and my non-tea husband also felt very happy drinking from this very pretty tea set.

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Pomelo tea at Cafe Pal.
It was a rainy day and this was the perfect pulpy tangy hot drink after some awesome Thai food and catching up with an old friend.

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Iced lychee oolong at Tea Bone Zen Mind.
It was a scorching hot afternoon. I always buy several bags of of lychee oolong back after every visit!

I’ve been around…but not really here.

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Dear whoever still comes by here once in a while,

I just wanted to let you know that while I haven’t been industrious about updating this tea blog, I am still very much a tea lover and occasionally still churn out stories for T Ching (mostly because they give me deadlines – maybe I should do this here too).

Here’s what I’ve been up to the past few months:

I went for a really interesting tea workshop by Pekoe & Imp! 

After that, I did a little “tea pilgrimage” to Taiwan and it was awesome yo. 

I also did some “tea community work” by organising a short tea appreciation session for a Christian retreat. 

Time is a precious, precious commodity these days – and I’ve been finding it a real challenge to find “meteatime” regularly. But I think I’d like to spend more time with tea (and this blog); to put a pause button on all these fleeting moments and memories that seem to whoosh by my head like a roadrunner.

Cheers,
Melanie

Tea Loves: Lianne Ong (Plus Some Tea-Jewellery Pairing)

lianneLianne with her husband, Salmon. They love drinking tea (even though they have a “Drink Coffee” poster behind them) and have just set up an online designer fashion jewellery store called Pinwheel Jewels. Image courtesy of Jimmy Sng.

Lianne is a dear friend whom I have drunk many cups of tea with. In general, we talk about things like LIFE and FINDING PURPOSE…thank God there’s tea to mellow us down as we meander around these abstract topics.

I’m really happy for her because she’s  found something that suits her priorities and interests – opening up an online designer fashion jewellery store called Pinwheel Jewels with her husband, Salmon. She has a wonderful artistic eye, a sophisticated fashion sense and is a whiz in all things logistical – a perfect combination for such a business if you ask me!

While ogling at her jewellery over tea one day, I thought hey, wouldn’t it be fun to do a tea-jewellery pairing featuring some of the exquisite products from Pinwheel Jewels? And so, here’s what she came up with:

Lychee Oolong + Kenneth Jay Lane Chinois-inspired Carved Resin Earrings
“These earrings are a new take on traditional jade openwork carvings, just like this lychee infused oolong tea.”

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Japanese Green Tea with Sweet Berries + Sakura Earrings and Bracelet by Shlomit Ofir Jewelry Design
“These earrings and bracelet are the perfect match for this tea – sweet, delicate and floral.”

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Earl Grey Tea +  Pearl Tassel Earrings with Crystals by Ben-Amun
“This bergamot-scented brew and Art Deco style earrings would work perfectly on the set of Downton Abbey.”

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Turkish Apple Tea + Kenneth Jay Lane Black Deco Cuff with Rhinestones and Jade
“The sweet and warm Snow White meets her match with the Evil Queen – who sees green whenever her crystal mirror reveals the truth to her.”

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We had so much fun doing this – I think tea and jewellery are unexpectedly wonderful companions! And yes, as you can tell, Lianne really does love her tea. So of course, I need to do a Tea Loves feature on her too🙂

Tell us more about your love of tea.
I start the day with tea, and I often have a pick-me-up in the afternoon as well. I started drinking tea as a child, and I remember the dentist asking my mother whether I drank tea because she could see tea stains on my teeth! Tea has become something comforting, and you can always find the right tea for every occasion. My husband also enjoys tea – we liked it enough to include it as a wedding favour for our guests when we got married.

What are your favourite teas and why?
I must qualify first that I’m not a tea expert, I just drink what I like and what seems fitting for the occasion. For cold teas, I like an iced Darjeeling. Our family has lived overseas twice, and during winter, I love a cup of chai. The spices are warming and the milk is so comforting.

Describe your most memorable tea moment.
When I was dating my husband, my future mother-in-law asked me to make a pot of tea. This was the first time I was allowed to potter around in her kitchen, which was strictly her turf. After making the pot of tea – where I had followed my gut instinct to make the tea extra strong – she told me, “I don’t know if you can cook, but you make a good pot of tea.”

How is wearing jewellery similar to drinking tea?
Jewellery is not only a way to express personal style, but also a way to make memories. I’m really sentimental about my jewellery, whether cheap or expensive. I always remember who gave what to me, during which occasion and why. It’s my time capsule. Similarly, certain tea blends can send me back in time and I’ll recall when I last had this tea, how I was feeling then, and whom I was drinking it with.

Pinwheel Jewels
https://www.facebook.com/pinwheeljewels
https://twitter.com/PinwheelJewels

And finally, I get to the best part:
PINWHEEL JEWELS IS OFFERING TEALADYMEL READERS  10% DISCOUNT  ON PURCHASES S$200 AND ABOVE! YAY!!
PROMO CODE: TEALOVES10
Promotion valid till 31 July 2013.
Not valid with other promotions and discounts.

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