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

Review: Infusion-de-vie, Organic Chinese Tea with Herbs

Earlier this year, I tried to make my own Eight Treasures tea for Chinese New Year, and while it made a rather pretty Instagram picture, it tasted pretty gross and I discreetly chose not to blog about it (till now).

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Keemun Mao Feng Black Tea with chrysanthemum, rose, goji berries, dried orange peel, red dates, longan and rock sugar.

Interestingly enough, while talking to Siong, one of the founding partners of new tea brand Infusion-de-vie, he told me that a TCM physician from Taiwan had told them to keep their Chinese tea/herb blends to just a maximum of three ingredients. And in line with my whole let’s-keep-things-simpler mantra of the moment, this sounds like wise advice!

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Last week, I received a box of their Rejuvenate blend (S$32 for 5 sachets, each sachet can last up to 5 rounds) just before the festive frenzy. How timely because as the resident grinch, this time of the year can get especially draining. This organic concoction consists of Taiwan Yilan black tea leaves, sun-baked goji berries and Astragulus roots (huang qi). I was surprised at the woody sweet intensity of flavours with just 6-7 minute brews (am used to boiling my herbal soups for at least an hour) and was also intrigued by the whole concept of this tea brand.

“There are so many tea brands coming out these days and we were wondering how we could make our tea business stand out. I’m a very health-conscious person, and also someone who has a deep respect for Chinese culture, so I thought that doing organic Chinese tea blends that also include organic herbs might appeal to a wider base of customers,” Siong explained.

While it’s only just been launched a few months ago, there has apparently been a healthy flow of orders coming in without doing any aggressive marketing as yet. Good on them! Perhaps it’s their lovely packaging and creative, nourishing blends which most Chinese are not strangers to, but would find refreshing to drink as tea. For example,they also sell blends such as Revitalise (Taiwan Yilan Oolong Tea & Premium White Ginseng, S$48) as well as Refresh (White Chrysanthemum & Sun-baked Goji Berries, S$32).

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Another driving force for coming up with Infusion-de-vie was the discovery from a CCTV news report that most Chinese herbs sold today are preserved with sulphur which can harm the respiratory system. As such, all the ingredients in Infusion De Vie’s blends are certified organic by Taiwan MOA International, German Kiwa BCS Oko-Garantie GmbH and French Ecocert SA.

– You can buy Infusion-de-vie products from their website – they do international shipping.

– You can join the Infusion-de-vie FB page here to get a 10% discount from their Raffles Place pushcart (details below)!

-They are also retailed in Singapore and China at the following places:

China

1. Yue Zi Ge 悦子阁
858 Yuyuan Rd, Changning, Shanghai, China
上海市长宁区愚园路858号

2. Tian Lu 天露
Unit 105, Block A, 176 Zhujiang Rd, Suzhou, China
江苏省苏州市常熟市176号珠江路玉坤国贸广场A座105

3. Louis Canton 壕爷
289 Guangzhou Middle Road, Nanfang 289 Art Space, Guangzhou, China
广州市广州大道中289号南方289艺术园一楼大厅

4. Cafe Spoon
Unit A13, Mall of the World (South Zone), Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou, China
广州市珠江新城花城汇南A13区号

Singapore

1. Pies & Coffee @ Robertson Walk
11 Unity Street, #01-25, Robertson Walk, Singapore 237995

2. Pies & Coffee @ The Grandstand
200 Turf Club Road, #01-10, Singapore 288794

3. The Tuckshop / The Recess
403 Guillemard Road, Singapore 399795

4. Pushcart @ Basement One, Raffles Exchange
Raffles Place MRT Station
5 Raffles Place, Singapore 048618

 

 

Four Festive Teas

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Christmas celebrations really do get hardcore don’t they? As you might know, I’m more or less a Christmas grinch but I tried to minimise aggravation this year by buying Christmas presents a month in advance so I would avoid all the crazy crowds that have me in a tizzy.

Nevertheless, hustle and bustle cannot be avoided and that’s where soothing tea comes in. And even though I hardly ever update this poor little tea blog, I received a bounty of fun festive teas from Tea Traders Company and Lupicia to bring cheer this claustrophobic season. Their sweet generosity even got me to create a Christmas greeting banner on this blog (SO not me), which goes to show how good vibes can neutralise even the grumpiest of people.

Here are my four favourite tea blends this festive season (L-R) which will make lovely gifts and/or post-feast hot beverage:

CAROL (Limited Edition by Lupicia): Black tea with strawberry, vanilla, rose petals and coconut flakes. Recommended to be drunk with milk but I had it “kosong” and was surprised how the coconut flavour gives the tea this lovely creaminess to it. Of course it also smells like something I wish I had as a moisturising cream.

DARK CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT (Art of Tea – a lovely new range of subtly-blended, organic teas that Tea Traders Co has just brought in). I’m generally very wary of chocolate-flavoured teas. It’s kind of like how I think coffee-flavoured teas are pointless. But this pu-erh blend really works, mostly because there’s no fake cloying sweetness. Just hints of cocoa notes that go so well with the earthy tea base and a lovely peppermint tang at the end. Pu-erh puritans – you just might find this a delight.

MANDARIN SILK (Art of Tea): A sure crowd-pleaser to go with Christmas fruit cake. This blend was the winner of the Best Flavoured Oolong at the World Tea Expo, Specialty Tea Institute and Tea Association of America. I like its citrus notes combining with the floral oolong though I did find the vanilla a bit strong. I’m definitely saving some of this for Chinese New Year.

JINGLE BELLS (Lupicia): Enough of the bubbly champagne? This black tea with cranberry makes a lovely, low-sugar substitute. The tea is a light black tea, which brings out the “grapiness” of this blend really well. Lupicia, being a Japanese brand, absolutely nails that grape flavouring and aroma really well without being too cloying or fake and I really could just stick my nose in a cup of Jingle Bells for a really long time. I’m thinking of cold-brewing it and adding some rock sugar syrup and frozen halved grapes for an upcoming gathering. Will tell you how that goes!

The best thing about all these teas? They can be bought online (click on the links) and delivered right to your doorstep.

Review: Revisiting White & Raw Teas (from Teavivre)

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Many years ago, a friend served a pot of white tea after dinner at her place. It was my first exposure to Chinese tea beyond Chineserestaurantstuff, and I was intrigued that such a tea could exist. As such, I’ve always had a soft spot for white tea, even if some of my recent experiences with (flavoured) white tea have left a  bad taste in my mouth.

So when Teavivre offered to send me white tea samples, I was game (especially since I’ve really enjoyed reviewing their teas here and here). Besides that they also popped in two raw pu-erhs in the mix as well. It was a lovely, soothing tasting session and here are my thoughts:

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Organic Silver Needle: I started with this first thinking it would be the lightest. But frankly, everything else paled in comparison after this. It was unforgettable. The sweetness! The smoothness! Upon my first sip, I felt this urge to caress these dear leaves, which were kind of cute because they were also so plump and furry. This is definitely one of the better Silver Needle tea I’ve had in my life, and I was actually surprised at how fresh the tea tasted given I received this package three months ago (oops). Besides its lovely steamed chestnut notes (so much nuttier than other Silver Needle teas I’ve had in the past), I also got hints of greengrapiness…I don’t know why but I thought of those Little Twin Star bonbons I used to get at birthday parties. Do they still sell those?

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Organic White Peony: Poor fella here faced some stiff competition. While it is a heavier white tea, it really tasted much flatter in comparison to the Silver Needle. But it’s really a great quality bai mu dan. For one, there were these lovely dewy grassy notes to it and I love its dark green leafy colour. I would say it makes a great “starter” white tea.

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Fuding Shou Mei 2013: This aged white tea, which came in a cake form, intrigued me. I felt like it tasted like raisins and cinnamon, and that was a very pleasant surprise.  I reckon this would taste really good with Christmas rum cake! Though of course, given how this tea is relatively light, it’s best enjoyed on its own!

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Fengqing Raw Pu-erh Cake Tea 2006: A robust, honeyed brew. I think this is a tea that really showcases the good features of raw pu-erh. It’s much lighter than the usual aged pu-erh but still has plenty of depth. I detected woody, plummy, grassy hay notes.

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Jasmine Raw Pu-erh Mini Tuocha: Unfortunately, I felt that the natural, mellow taste of the pu-erh was masked by the jasmine. However, this is really a lovely jasmine flavour. I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid perfume and it brought back (happy) memories of dimsum high teas. For jasmine tea fans, this is a tea blend you could explore.

Kicking Back with Keiko

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While I’m more of a Chinese tea person (now), I’ve never lost my fascination with Japanese tea. I love Gyokuro and Genmaicha and I still have many lovely memories of drinking the freshest, tastiest sencha in Shizuoka all those years ago. I was invited by Kaylin, another tea-loving Singaporean who is distributing Keiko Japanese Green Tea in Singapore. Keiko is a German-Japanese tea brand that has a plantation in Kagoshima in Southern Japan. It’s supposed to be a really fertile area because there’s an active volcano nearby. Their teas are also Certifie Agriculture Biologique organic-certified and is also packed using some high-tech method involving nitrogen to retain freshness (sorry, these techie things I tend to gloss over). But yes, some excellent quality tea here! 

This week, I wanted to wind down after some crazy work stuff and was so glad to have this little tea tasting session in the middle of the week with Kaylin. I also got acquainted with some other Japanese teas which I’ve had little exposure to during this session. Here’s what I sampled: 

Sencha: This gave me an idea that I was in for some really good teas ahead. It was a smooth, almost milky green tea that left a slight apricot aftertaste. 

Kabuse No. 2: Kabuse is a semi-shaded type of green tea that is known for its sweetness and aroma. It is not as “umami” as a gyokuro, but it definitely has its charm. It reminded me a bit of a green bean soup dessert, very drinkable and refreshing. 

Shincha: This is a rare batch of early spring tea that is actually fluorescent green. Interestingly enough, there’s this slight citrus afternote – a taste profile I’d never expect for a Japanese green tea but oh well, you learn something new everyday!

Tenbu Fuka: I really like this tea, it packs in a super umami punch! The Tenbu Fuka is plucked in mid-April and has a dark green liquor colour because it has been intensively steamed. 

Benifuuki: This tea is supposed to have a really high content of EGCG3 (the antioxidant that green tea is known for) which is supposed to help with sinus allergies. It’s also the most bitter of the lot – apparently, many Japanese love this tea and drink copious amounts of it before winter season starts. 

Kabuse Genaicha + Matcha: My absolute favourite of the lot – I bought a box home and it’s my morning “start-up” drink now! Kaylin pointed out that even the roasted rice puffs in this tea are organic. Might I also add that they are also incredibly fun to crunch on after I’m done brewing the tea😉 Usually, Genmaicha can get pretty weak on the green tea part, but because of the matcha, this tea really packs in a punch and is a beautiful dark jade colour. 

Kabuse Houjicha: This roasted tea is very malty and caramelled ( “mass houjicha” served in Korean and Japanese restaurants and sold in Daiso pales in comparison in terms of intensity of flavour) and I love the slightly bitter vanilla notes at the end. I would like to try this iced sometime with perhaps a little drizzle of honey! 

Overall, I really enjoyed my first Keiko experience and it’s actually pretty affordable too with prices ranging from USD$9.60-48.10 for a 50gm box. Again, SO HAPPY more great tea is making its way to Singapore!

WHERE YOU CAN BUY KEIKO TEAS: 

– Their online store (For Singapore, there’s free delivery for orders above USD$30)

– ISETAN supermarkets at Scotts Orchard and Westgate Mall

– Selected health shops such as That Health Shop (Roxy Square) and Lins Healing Concierge (Valley Point). 

*From 1-14 Sept 2014, there’ll be a Keiko tea booth at the Level 2 Atrium of Westgate Mall where you can sample and purchase their teas! Do drop by if you happen to be shopping there! 

And lastly, feel free to join their Facebook page and/or Instagram page (@keikoexperiece) for all kinds of Japanese tea trivia and pretty pics. 

Eagle Tea Merchant: May You Soar to Great Heights!

This post was something I’d wanted to do ages ago, but better late than never I guess. And it’s kind of fitting to promote a local tea company on National Day heh.

Sometime in June, the ladies from Pekoe & Imp asked if I wanted to accompany them for a puerh tasting session. Immediately, a vision of going to some old, dusty Chinese tea shop and having some bearded uncle tsk-tsking me for knowing nothing about puerh came to mind. But I thought that sounded quite exotic (am a little perverse that way) and agreed to go.

Eventually, I found myself going to some industrial building and meeting this guy in a modern grey office space.
eagle1This is Alex, who recently set up an online tea shop called Eagle Tea Merchant that specialises in (pretty affordable!) puerh. We were all pretty surprised when we met him. Imp said he sounded “youngish” over the e-mails, and we were expecting someone in his mid-30s perhaps, but no, it was this zesty guy in his 20s who talked really fast and giggled a lot.

We had a pretty long tea chat that afternoon. Alex has spent a few years researching on puerh and teaware in Yunnan and quite frankly, I get quite lost when he’s “talking puerh” with the serious tea people because a lot of Mandarin is involved. But suffice to say, he knows his stuff and he made an effort to explain things to me as simply as possible. He seems to like raw puerh a lot. And they all tasted quite lovely with lovely plummy, raisin, fruity, nectariney notes.

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This is a 2013 昔归生普耳 (Xigui Raw Puerh).

Anyway, here’s an observation. I notice that most of the Singaporean guys here who express an inclination towards tea will almost always say their favourite type of tea is puerh. I’m not sure if it’s because puerh is seen as more manly or it’s something to do with testosteroney tastebuds. Whatever the case, I think that if you’re a not-too-uncle male in Singapore who would really like to know more about puerh, then Eagle Tea Merchant is the place to start! Contact Alex and arrange a tasting session. It’s a very friendly, bro sort of environment. In fact, soon after my session at Eagle Tea Merchant, a male reader of this blog dropped me a note about his love for puerh. I referred him to Alex and he has become a big Eagle fan ever since. True story!

Eagle Tea Merchant
28 Sin Ming Lane #04-145
Midview City
Singapore 573972

E-mail alex@eagleteamerchant.com if you’d like to arranging a tasting session:)

The Longjing Lineup

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I just realised last week that I have quite a bit of Longjing green tea to consume. TeaVivre had kindly sent over a HUGE package of green tea samples from their Spring range last month, and I’d also received a tin of TeaVivre’s Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well from imp.

And so, I decided I would taste all of them Longjings at one go.

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In general, all the leaves look gorgeous. Sorry I can’t be more technical about it. But put it this way, I’ve seen what bad, stale Longjing looks like at certain atas hotel cafes that don’t store them properly (brownish, kind of damp-looking and possibly mouldy) and these leaves are just the opposite: green and crunchy looking.

Here’s what I tried:

Organic Superfine Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. It smelled kind of toasty/smoky so I was surprised that when I drank it, it was smooth bodied and there was this natural honeyed sweetness at the end. A surprising tea.

Premium Grade Dragon Well: From Xi Hu (West Lake). It had that steamed chicken aroma that I’ve come to associate with Longjing, and there were some pleasant umami notes in the brew. It was a little more astringent (‘siap’) compared to the Organic Superfine Dragon Well.

Organic Non Pareil Ming Qian Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. It had an interesting dewy, smoky aroma and was very mellow and vegetal. A nice kick-back sort of tea.

Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well: From Tian Mu Mountain. I’ve had this tea several times and I’m always amazed at how sweet it is no matter how crudely I make it. It smells like a steamed lotus paste pao and its chestnutty brew also has this woody depth to it. I think this is my favourite Dragon, ROAR!

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I was actually wondering if they would all taste the same to me, then this would be a really boring review. But hey, they don’t! And once again, I’m amazed at how each tea has all these fascinating nuances, even if they are the same type of tea from the same season!

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