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 Loves: Julie Wang of Australian Tea Masters

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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.

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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😉

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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!

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

An Unintentional Tea Spokesperson

Because of this blog, some journalists have contacted me to provide quotes/information about tea for their articles.

Here’s one article from TimeOut Singapore:
http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/aroundtown/feature/2012-singapores-best-teas

And here’s another from Longitude, an in-house magazine for a marina club (see pg 21 – 23):
http://www.one15marina.com/one15cms/upload/17122012_110608_Longitude%20Jan-Feb%202013%20(1).pdf

I find it rather surreal to be on the other side of the table (usually, I’m the one bugging people to tell me more about tea). Don’t get me wrong however, I’m always happy to share tea trivia and experiences!

Tea and Meditation

Something I wrote for T Ching at a rather crazy time in life…and though I thought I wouldn’t be able to write anything, this came out.

You can read the full article here.

Random Tea Bonding

This is something I’d wanted to write about a while back but somehow got distracted along the way.

A few months ago, I met two ladies at tea class. Usually, I’m not very chatty  with the other students taking lessons because I try to be focused. However, the teacher told the three of us, “Make friends with each other! You will get along.” So after we were done with most of our learning stuff, we introduced ourselves to each other and proceeded to talk tea for the next two hours. And by talk, I mean really talk and not just the usual social pleasantries.

I really enjoyed this interaction for several reasons. For one, I’m a shy person who usually takes several weeks/months to warm up to people. So to be able to yap with them for 120 minutes, that’s really saying something. Secondly, I was quite tired of making new acquaintances, but never getting any sense of what they were like because of wary grown-up shells. These ladies, however, were really quite open and down-to-earth and didn’t have anything to prove, which I found absolutely refreshing. Lastly, 99% of my friends have no idea why I’m so crazy about tea – so to be able to share my enthusiasm with like-minded people at a similar wavelength: pure awesomeness!

However, because of busyness, I’ve lost touch with them – so this is a reminder to myself that once this hectic period is over (end March), I’m going to drop them a note!

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