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

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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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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. 

Review: Newby Teas (and their Christmas pop-up shop)

Update: I also have a very cool interview with the Newby Teas founder on T Ching! Do check that out as well 🙂

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Courtesy of Newby of London (Featured tea: Oriental Sencha)

I’m really happy to hear that another premium tea brand has made its way to this small, caffeinated island. We could always do with more  good tea – and Newby of London has the track record of serving up many delightful cuppas. It was established in 2000 and has loyal customers that include the three Royal Castles in Stockholm, 7-star Burj Al Arab in Dubai and the offices for the President and Prime Minister in Poland. It has also won around 85 awards from the North America Tea Championship and the British Great Taste Awards.

But that aside, Newby’s founder, Mr. Nirmal Sethia has a genuine love of tea (he even has an extensive collection of tea antiques and is a tea history buff). You can get a sense of his passion for tea in these interviews here:

Mr. Sethia sharing his tea journey with a TV channel in Kazakhstan

Mr. Sethia showing his antiques at Channel New Asia’s AM LIVE! show

(I love how he says, “Good tea is like a beautiful woman who is not to be judged by her appearance.”)

The new Singapore team from Newby of London kindly sent over some samples for me to try. I tried their Hunan Green Tea and the Kan-Junga Tea with the ladies from Pekoe & Imp, so there’s a bit of input from them as well (including ripping the pyramid bags to drink the tea loose leaf heh).

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Hunan Green, Kan-Junga

Hunan Green Tea (Ling Luo Chun): According to Jacq, this type of tea is all the rage in London now. We all agreed that this was a decent Chinese green tea with strong grassy notes. However, the amount was on the scarce side (to brew it Chinese tea ceremony style at least) so we only got a few sips of it between the three of us.

Kan-Junga: A sweet, muscatel black tea from Himalaya that we unanimously took a strong liking to. In fact, HY loved it so much she ordered Jacq to brew her a huge mug of it after the tasting. Jacq said it was “comparable to a Margaret’s Hope 2nd Flush Darjeeling” (I think that’s a good thing). I dig it too so I’m including a close-up shot of it here – please try it someday!

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Courtesy of Newby of London

Here are the other teas I tried from Newby on my own:

Darjeeling: I also really liked this! It had the typical muscatel notes, but also had this subtle woodiness that gave it a bit of a kick. There was this faint clove-like fragrance emanating from the steeped leaves which I found fascinating.

Jasmine Blossom: I think I’ve kind of “gotten over” Jasmine teas in general, so for me, I felt I would rather want to taste the actual tea as opposed to the strong floral aftertaste. However, for Jasmine tea fans, this would really make a lovely brew (it had these beautiful whole white Jasmine blossoms sprinkled in it too, so very pretty).

Peppermint: I’ve tried a lot of peppermint teas, and this has become one of my favourites. I’m seeing how I can arrange to buy a large supply of this! There was this natural sweetness to it, and had a stronger minty aroma compared to other mint teas I’ve tried, which absolutely goes down in my books!

Rooibos Tiramisu: Yep, I think I’m definitely off flavoured blends (and also am not a Tiramisu person). Generally, I prefer rooibos just with good ol’ honey and a squeeze of lemon. But I appreciate  the creativity of this blend with bits of barley malt, cocoa beans, roasted chicory root and white chocolate – the Tiramisu flavour was nailed down perfectly and also had all these textured bits to make it a fun drink. I’d say this would go really well with Christmas pudding or fruitcake.

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Courtesy of Newby of London

Speaking of Christmas, if you’d like a chance to sample Newby Teas, do drop by their Christmas pop-up store at the British Club this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Here are the details:

Dates: 26 and 27 November 2013 (Tues & Wed)

Time: 10am – 5pm

Venue: The Elizabeth Suite at the British Club, 73 Bukit Tinggi Road, Singapore 289761

Contact marketing@newbyteas.sg if you would like more information. 

Jap Tea Brand Lupicia in Singapore

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Image courtesy of Sarafine Concepts Asia

It has been a hard week for all of us here in Singapore with the haze situation. On a personal front, my childhood asthma sneakily returned with the surge of air pollutants, and my baby boy is down with a fever that we’re hoping very hard is not dengue (there’s a dengue epidemic happening concurrently, and at this point, we’re just waiting it out before tests can be done).

However, the one pleasant reprieve I did get this week was checking out the new LUPICIA store in Singapore. I first got to know about this Japanese tea brand when I went for the World O-Cha Festival three years ago, and I remember its pretty booth filled with pretty metal tea canisters.

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Image courtesy of Sarafine Concepts Asia

I later found out that LUPICIA is not just about its charming packaging, but also emphasises on fresh, high-quality teas that are processed and packaged in Japan. It is an immensely successful tea retail brand with over 100 stores in Japan, U.S.A, Taiwan, Australia and now Singapore (its first outlet in Southeast Asia).

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During the media launch, I got an intimate preview of the LUPICIA experience, which is all about the discovering new ways to prepare and enjoy tea. There were different stations with themes such as Japanese, Picnic, English Tea and Chai that presented a wide spectrum of tea types, cultures, preparation methods and pairings. In general, I prefer their unflavoured teas such as Darjeeling The First Flush and the Sencha “Chiran”, but I must say that their fruity teas are quite lovely such as Grapefruit Green and Momo Ooolong Super Grade. They also sell related tea products such as chai spices and tea-flavoured honey.

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But I guess what really got me excited was the affordable teaware that LUPICIA is retailing. I already know what I’ll be shopping for in the future – their adorable tea tasting ceramic cups and matcha accessories! I also really dig their “Original Handy Cooler” (above image, bottom left) – which I used today to cold brew some Sencha “Matsuri” for my husband after reading about how green tea might help alleviate the effects of haze (he finds it “too troublesome” to drink hot tea :P). Disclaimer: Green tea is not a cure-all. But psychologically, I just feel better giving loved ones something green-looking to drink during these smoggy days. Just blame the haze for this hazy rationale.

I’m really glad a tea brand such as LUPICIA has decided to set up a store here in Singapore – it fills in the gap for “mid-range tea drinkers”  (prices start from S$8 for a bag of 50g loose leaf tea or packet of 10 teabags) who might not be willing to part with hundreds of dollars for tea leaves or teaware, but want to take their tea journey to the next level. At the same time, there’s also plenty for the “fun tea drinker” who loves fruity and herbal blends (they even have a barley range that I want to try soon) and exclusive seasonal, single estate offerings for “serious tea drinkers”.

So no matter what kind of tea drinker you are, I reckon you’ll enjoy exploring the LUPICIA store – and there couldn’t be a better time to stock up on tea than now, when we’re all encouraged to stay home as much as possible.

In the meantime, keep healthy and happy fellow peeps in Singapore!

LUPICIA Singapore
#B1-12 Great World City
1 Kim Seng Promenade
Singapore 237994
Tel: 6737 0334

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LUPICIASG

Open daily from 10am- 10pm

5 best Chinese teahouses in the city

Something I wrote for inSing.com. I felt a little sad that I struggled to find five teahouses to feature…there needs to be more tea spots in Singapore!

You can read the full article here.

T Ching Post – My First Chinese Teahouse

It seems that my childhood memories often seem more vivid than last week’s recollections. Read about my experience re-visiting my first Chinese teahouse here.

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