Tea Loves: Julie Wang of Australian Tea Masters

julie1

Julie is an Instagram friend who has become a real-life friend because we bonded over – what else – tea! I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a sublime tea session over at her place and there really couldn’t be a better person to finally bring awesomely legit tea courses to Singapore.

That’s right, Julie is now a Training Director with Australian Tea Masters (ATM), where she previously attained Certified Tea Master accreditation. She’s been super busy setting up a Singapore branch of ATM with an exciting series of tea courses lined up, but for now, Julie tell us more about her amazing tea journey so far.

How did you fall in love with tea?
I have always been a tea drinker but I fell in love with the world of specialty tea when I started my training with Australian Tea Masters in 2013. I recall being blown away just by the sheer variety of teas available at the training and getting my taste buds awakened to these beautiful natural flavours.

Sharyn Johnston, CEO and Founder of Australian Tea Masters was also a key influence. She opened my mind and soul to both traditional and modern ways of appreciating tea, while teaching me to respect the artistry of the tea makers.

What are your favourite teas and why?
This is hard to answer! I’m always discovering news teas or new flavour notes with new batches of tea. There are also other factors such as changing terroir and a developing palate that gets more pronounced over time. But that’s what gets me excited about tea: it’s a never-ending journey of discovery. But if I must choose a few at the moment, I go with:

Duck Shit Scent (Ya Shi Xiang) Phoenix Dan Cong
I was initially repelled by its name until I tasted it. The complexity of the tea, starting from the lifted aromas of stonefruits and the finishing of a lingering sweetness, is just beautiful! It’s one of the teas that I love serving to my guests who are unfamiliar with the range of tea. I enjoy observing how their reaction changes from repulsion to amazement after tasting this tea.

Gyokuro
I love this because of its intense umami-ness! A good grade Gyokuro can taste almost like a savoury soup and it’s very versatile. You can steep it over ice, brew it warm or even season the steeped leaves with some yuzu sauce for an appetizing cold dish.

Wenshan Pouchong
This tea holds a special place in my heart because I tasted it during my first visit to a tea farm. This farm was in Pinglin, Taiwan and it produced an award-winning Pouchong. The tea leaves had just been picked the day before my visit and hadn’t been sorted yet. But I wanted this tea so badly that we ended up huddling on the ground together with the tea master to sort out the leaves from the stems. The freshness of the tea was unbelievable and came through without any need for fancy brewing equipment.

julie2.JPG

Tell us more about these lovely tea parties for that you regularly organise for friends.
In the words of tea author, Ling Wang, “Whenever friends and family sit around a table, a cup of tea will lend its rich aroma and warm presence to any occasion.” I also enjoy introducing specialty tea to the uninitiated. Food and tea pairing or infusing tea into food make great conversation starters.

Before, I found it quite challenging to get good quality tea-infused foods off-the-shelf, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t bake to save my life. But because I couldn’t get those crazy tea recipe ideas out of my head, I just had to learn to do it myself. So I really have tea to thank for motivating me to hone my baking skills!

My Hojicha Cheesecake and Thai Milk Tea Cookies are pretty much loved by my friends as I emphasise on bringing out those distinctive tea notes. As I have a good number of guests who don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I also started to experiment with tea-infused savoury dishes with the favourites being the Da Hong Pao Smoked Chicken in Mini Chia Seed Rolls (which takes about two days to prepare) and a 12-hour Lapsang Souchong Ajitsuke Tamago – my take on our humble herbal tea egg.

What do you hope to communicate to people about tea as a Training Director with Australian Tea Masters?
I hope to connect more people to the charming world of specialty tea with its myriad of aromas and flavours. The humble Camellia Sinensis plant has been life changing for me. Its subtlety has made me stop and take time to appreciate the little things in life and the wonders of nature. I hope tea can do that for other people too.

With ATM, I hope to make high quality specialty tea more accessible to everyone, especially when one is dining out at a café or restaurant. As much as we have great specialty coffee in Singapore and around the region, tea is still generally very much an afterthought. However, I truly believe in its  potential to elevate the dining scene in this region.

Also, we hope to give tea professionals here the recognition and credibility that they deserve, just as one would with the coffee baristas and wine sommeliers. We will be launching the Certified Tea Sommelier course in Singapore on 30 and 31 July. This is only programme in the world that is in accordance with the Australian government-approved standards.

What was going through Australian Tea Masters Certified Tea Master programme like?
It was pretty intense with three full days of on-site training in Australia and after that, having to juggle a full-time job with 14 weeks of assignments back in Singapore. However, it was also very enjoyable as I got to taste and evaluate so many teas over the course. I joined the programme because I was looking for a structured way to learn about teas from all around the world. I also wanted to learn about professional tea service, which I feel does not really exist in Singapore.

How did that eventually lead to you bringing Australian Tea Masters to Singapore?
While there were many offers to Sharyn for the overseas expansion of Australian Tea Masters (ATM), I was very privileged that she decided to work with me for ATM’s first branch office. I guess we share the same passion for specialty tea and the genuine desire to help the F&B operators in the region with professional tea service. Singapore is also a natural choice as a regional hub for tea education and training given its convenient location and ideal business climate.

We are very heartened by the launch of ATM Singapore at the recent Café Asia 2016. Response was fantastic and we are humbled by the public confidence in us. We are also very honoured to have been invited by Food & Hotel Asia 2016 to conduct two mini-tea courses in April. With the Global Tea Menu course, students get to taste and evaluate teas around the world and learn to develop their own tea menu for their business. In the Hands-on Basic Tea Blending course, students will learn about the type of botanicals and flavours which can be added to create a great tea blend and they will even get to make their own blends.

What are your tips on getting the most out of your tea drinking experience?
Any tea connoisseur will be able to tell you that the selection of tea leaves, leaves to water ratio, type of water, temperature, brewing equipment and brewing time will all affect the taste of tea. But I also believe the state of mind is important to create and appreciate a beautiful brew. A distracted mind will not be able to focus on these variables, nor allow the senses to fully appreciate the subtle aromas and flavours. It’s so important to allow yourself to set aside time to slowly brew and fully savour tea.

What do you hope to change about the tea culture in Singapore?
I would like to make specialty, single origin teas more relatable and exciting while still emphasising on the importance of detail, craft, skill and respect to a tea’s origin.

This is exactly what is now being done at the award-winning Cartel Roasters Brew Bar in Geelong, Australia. It is owned and managed by Sharyn’s son, Nathan James Johnston. He is not just a coffee legend; he has also been shaking up the tea scene with his mother by serving up high quality and rare specialty tea in the most innovative ways such as using the Steampunk brewing machine or the Chemex coffeemaker to coax out those fresh tea flavours. I would like to see such things happening in Singapore too.

Tea is…
… a journey of serendipity that enthralls the soul.

Connect with Julie on Instagram at @julieteabits
Find out more about Australia Tea Masters here.

Images courtesy of Julie Wang

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😉

tc2

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.

tc3

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!

Tea Loves: Regena Rafelson

Image

It looks like I’m pretty (virtually) social with tea folks this year! Today, I interview T Ching managing editor, Regena Rafelson. She’s a retired high school English teacher from Hood River, Oregon and she tells us more about her tea life and work in this Tea Loves post.

As some of you might know, I’m a T Ching contributor and have learned much from this tea portal and its global community. Unfortunately, due to current real life commitments, I’m not able to write for them as regularly, but they’ve definitely got a loyal reader in me.

And for now, it’s back to Regena!:)

Tell us more about your editor position at T Ching. 

This is my second stint as managing editor.  When T Ching was a fledgling blog, I edited it for fourteen months in 2008 – 2009.  In April of 2013, the long-time editor, Erika Cilengir, handed the reins back to me.  I love the diversity of T Ching contributors and being able to read their fascinating posts before anyone else gets to!

What is your favourite tea and why? 

My favourite tea is whatever I am drinking!  I like black tea and oolongs of every persuasion.  I am currently having a serious fling with matcha.  When I am hiking, I like Earl Grey in the thermos.

What are your tea habits like? 

My first pot of tea steeps while I build a fire in our woodstove.  I pull my chair and my mug of tea up to the fireplace and drink that first pot while the fire slowly gains strength. I read the day’s post as it goes live on T Ching while I sip the second pot.

What’s the best and worst thing about being an editor of a tea website?

The best thing about being a website editor is the amazing rapport and relationships I build with contributors half a world away.  The worst thing is when those busy contributors are unable to meet deadlines.  Scrambling for posts is an anxiety-laden affair! (I’m sorry Regena for being one of those causing you this stress!)

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

The most misunderstood aspect of tea regards caffeine.  The mainstream western medical community is the worst offender, repeating the “tea-has-more-caffeine-than-coffee” mantra as if it was gospel.  No amount of research budges them from their litany.  I find that irresponsible as well as misleading.

 Describe the most interesting T Ching reader you’ve had. 

The most interesting tea reader would have to be this particular person who heckled me about a post I had written.  Social media is wonderful most of the time, but an insidious aspect of this media is the opportunity for people to be rude without taking responsibility.  I think of it as keyboard rage.

Tea is…

Tea is a beverage which speaks to our better selves, that peaceful part of us.  Tea is like giving yourself a hug.

Tea Loves: Stella Yan

stella

Stella (left) at Mengding Organic Tea Garden in Sichuan, China with an 85-year-old tea picker.

I’ve made another tea acquaintance! Stella is from China and does social media marketing for online tea retailer TeaVivre. She recently contacted me to do a tea review (I’m still getting round that, immensely enjoying the samples so far), and was so nice about catering to my tea preferences, I thought I would feature her on Tea Loves! She tells us about why she loves her tea job so much.

Why did you want to work in the tea industry?

I have been working at TeaVivre for more than five years, and helped to build an online presence for this brand internationally. I’m a tea lover and I wanted to work in the tea industry to broaden my tea knowledge. Furthermore, China has some of the best quality teas. By bringing premium Chinese teas to tea lovers all around the world, I can share this tea experience with other people, while also learning more about teas in other countries.

What is your favourite tea and why?

My favourite is Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Tea. It grows at an altitude of over 1,000 metres. As a result, this tea is naturally aromatic, mellow and brisk; and it can be steeped several times without losing its flavour.

What is your tea ritual like?

Every morning, I love to start work with a cup of green tea. For leisure, I enjoy sipping a cup of oolong while reading a book under the warm afternoon sun. When I have friends visiting, I will share my tea collection with them.

What’s the best and worst thing about working in the tea industry?

The best thing would be meeting tea lovers from all over the world. We talk about tea and exchange ideas about tea. It is very satisfying to see more and more tea lovers praising TeaVivre’s products and services.

The worst part about my job would be shipping delays due to holidays or other reasons we cannot control. I get as anxious as the customers waiting for their packages!

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

I often see people regarding expensive tea as good tea, resulting in tea getting more expensive in the market e.g. pu-erh tea getting hyped up to ten thousand yuan a cake. However, in my opinion, choosing a tea should be based on your taste preferences. Quality is more important than price.

What are your tips on what makes a “good” tea then?

The leaf quality, water temperature, steeping time, amount of tea, and even the maker’s emotion all come into play. Generally, I think good tea should just be your favourite tea.

Tea is …

Tea is like life. It tastes thin at first, then builds up in character, and gradually reaches its strongest point. After that peak period, it will slowly become light, and finally loses all its flavour.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating tea thoughts with us, Stella!:)  

Tea Loves: Alison Appleton

alison1

I recently made the virtual acquaintance of Alison Appleton, a tea ware designer from Liverpool. She has created gorgeous tea equipment for brands such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and La Cafetière. Alison is also a hardcore tea aficionado who has travelled to tea plantations in China. I love her work, and am so glad to know a fellow tea lover who is bringing more good tea and tea ware to her part of the world! I hope you get a chance to know her as well through this interview:)

Hi Alison! Tell us about how you fell in love with tea.
I come from a very sociable family. The kettle was always on, and there was always lots of gossip going on over cups of tea! My grandmother always made loose leaf tea and gave it to all the children in the family with milk and sugar.

alison2

How did you get into tea ware design?
I worked as a design consultant to La Cafetière for 10 years, and they sold products dealing with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. This sparked an interest in the history of the tea trade. I then made a few visits to China and fell in love with tea.

I think the story of tea (and all the beautiful products that have been created in order to serve it) is amazing. The history of the tea trade and tea’s extraordinary popularity of being in almost every home around the world makes it a subject worth studying.

At the same time, it is very important for me to make things that are useful as there is a lot of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the world. I want my pots to be enjoyed and used all the time, not just for special occasions.

You’re “anti-teabag” but the teabag is such a British institution – how do you deal with this?
Unfortunately, the teabag is the most common way to make tea in the UK because it is perceived as being quick and convenient. As a result, many people are used to the very blunt taste of (mostly poor quality) teabag tea.

However, I am very happy to report that there is a growing interest and appreciation of loose leaf teas. We hold monthly tea tasting sessions in our studio during which we take a look around the world and taste a huge variety of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, African and other teas. We have also selected a range of blended and flavoured black teas. Once our visitors taste these teas, they realise how much finer they are compared to the standard teabag.

They also see how very easy it is to prepare loose leaf tea without any fuss or mess.

alison3

Some of your tea ware designs incorporate Chinese and Japanese tea ceremony elements – what sparked your interest in these aspects of tea culture?
My first collection was inspired by the history of the tea trade in the UK. As tea was introduced to the UK, Chinese decoration motifs were used everywhere. This period saw the birth of British Chinoiserie, Ming vases, Chinese wallpaper, Thomas Chippendale furniture used by famous characters such as Jane Austen and Earl Grey. It seemed like an obvious place to start. My first collection was Darcy, named after the famous literary hero himself. Jane Austen would have drunk tea all day long and it would have been Chinese tea bought from Twinings.

alison4

My favourite design is your Golden Carp Series – how did you get your inspiration for that?
As my collection is quite small, I wanted to ensure there was some variety in the range. This one is the most glamorous and has a bit of bling! For Golden Carp, I wanted to fuse a European shape with Oriental imagery. Everything about this set symbolises good fortune: the carp, lotus and gold are all auspicious.

What kind of message do you want to send about tea with the kind of tea ware that you create?
That tea is special and we should make it properly. When you consider the effort that goes into growing, picking, drying and rolling a whole variety of exquisite teas, it is only correct that we brew them in lovely tea ware.

Good loose leaf teas are relatively inexpensive and can be enjoyed by everyone. I see the new interest in tea as being similar to the recent growth in the coffee business. Today, a huge proportion of people in the UK have espresso makers at home and enjoy a variety of espresso based coffee drinks every day. I hope that one day, consumers will be more demanding when it comes to drinking good quality tea.

What is your most memorable tea experience so far?
I visited a Longjing tea plantation as a guest of a family who had a share in that plantation. They gave me a delicious lunch, and after that, we drank pre Qing Ming Longjing tea all afternoon while sitting outside in the sunshine on a warm autumn day. The plantation looked beautiful and everything was delicious. I felt very lucky to have such an experience.

What is your tea ritual?
I usually drink Uva Pekoe from Sri Lanka for breakfast. This has a strong and malty flavour that goes very well with sourdough toast or my usual bowl of porridge with honey. Mid morning, I will make a pot of Da Hong Pao or another Oolong. Lunchtime, I’ll go for something like a black tea with rose.

In the afternoon, I will always drink green teas as they give me a lift. Before bed I like something light and delicate like a white tea.

Tea is …
Tea is a comfort. It revives and soothes, and always features at important occasions when friends and family are together.

Images courtesy of Alison Appleton

Connect with Alison (@AlisonAppleton) on Twitter

Meeting Liz Steel for Tea

One of the most popular posts on this blog is my Tea Loves interview with Liz Steel. I’m guessing it’s because of all her beautiful tea sketches! (I’ve also written about her on T Ching.)

I finally had to chance to meet her in real life when she swung by Singapore last week and we had a lovely tea tasting session at Tea Bone Zen Mind (TBZM).

Image

TBZM’s owner, Carrie, was so enchanted by her sketching; she said it was refreshing to look at “art without ego” (I guess she expressed it a lot more poetically than how I yap about Liz’s “happy drawings”). She kindly let us try many special things, including an aged 40-year-old kukicha and an intriguing tea salt infusion!

I’m glad I introduced the two like-minded ladies to each other – both tea lovers and inspiring artists in their own right:)

I’ve been around…but not really here.

taiwan5

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

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers