In a world where whisky and wine and coffee get discussed with fervent admiration, tea is often dismissed. It’s seen as the drink to wash down a meal with, or a last resort when you’ve hit your caffeine quota for the day, or something to be consumed only with black pearls at 50% sugar level.
But as life gets more hectic and we seek healthier ways to slow down, tea becomes a more enticing option. Interestingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has also played a key role in tea’s rising popularity in Singapore.
“We actually had a lot of orders during Covid,” says Li Hongyuan, the co-founder of local tea brand Pekoe & Imp. “Some customers were sending them as care packages, but also people were stuck at home, so for the first time, they had the time to enjoy brewing tea.”
Over the past few years, increasingly novel ways to experience the humble cuppa have started cropping up, too. If you’re looking to embark on your own journey of discovery into this beautiful beverage, here are a few suggestions on where to get started.
For the purists: accessible high-grade Chinese tea
It’s easy to forget that almost every tea out there comes from the same plant – the tea tree, Camellia sinensis. Yet the varieties available can be overwhelming, and it’s tricky to know what’s good. Luckily, SILK Tea Bar makes the experience both approachable and enjoyable. Founded by Xian Tan and Melody Teo, this cosy tea room in bustling Chinatown features a simple selection of ever-changing premium, single-origin Chinese teas – many of which are sourced from Pekoe & Imp.
“Good tea helps you steal time”
“Good tea helps you steal time, and it should leave you feeling comfortable,” says Tan. To him, a well-brewed cuppa invites sippers to slow down and stay present. Watching natural light stream in through the arched windows, it’s clear that this philosophy has permeated every detail in this earthy, minimalist space.
If you’re in the mood for geeking out, the tea tasting flight and self-brew programme make for great ways to while away an afternoon.
For the adventurous: house-brewed kombucha
Given its reputation of boasting many potential health benefits, kombucha has been gaining popularity for quite some time. But if the commercial brands are too sour for your taste, you might want to try the options at Apartment Coffee, a short bus ride from heritage neighbourhood Little India. Their kombucha brews are lovingly made in small batches by Ashley Chan, the café’s head of coffee and research, and are refreshing and nuanced.
“Commercially-made kombucha tends to be more acidic, as they’re more fermented to help them keep for longer,” he shares. His creations, on the other hand, are carefully calibrated and made with top-of-the-line tea leaves. “I usually use oolongs and red teas, and I love seeing how the fermentation process brings out different flavours.”
Apartment’s kombucha menu is updated every month, so there’s always something new to look forward to. The most recent tea used, for instance, is the Fujian Golden Peony Hongcha, a black tea laced with floral and plum-like sweetness.
For the pleasure-seekers: cocktails with a twist
While tea is often unfairly dismissed as an old-fashioned drink, players like the recently opened Mixology Salon at tranquil Robertson Quay are giving it a decidedly quirkier reputation. Founded in Tokyo, Japan, this craft cocktail bar renowned for its menu of “tea-tails” is the brainchild of master mixologist Shuzo Nagumo. The Singapore outpost is helmed by his protégé, Kaoru Takii, who serves up some delightful tipples over an intimate counter. The Hoji Tea-tail No. 2, for instance, is a gorgeous blend of hojicha, vintage port wine, aged cognac and cassis liqueur. Meanwhile, the Gyokuro Martini is underscored by the umami notes of the highest class of Japanese green tea.
“When creating each tea-tail, we choose a specific tea variety that serves as the foundation for the cocktail. We check the aroma profile and build the tea tail recipe, and adopt a gradual and precise method to preserve the true essence of the tea,” explains Takii. “By incorporating tea into cocktails, we infuse the beverage with unique tea flavours and aromas and pay homage to the rich cultural traditions associated with tea.”
For the foodies: tea-infused delicacies
Thanks to its versatile nature, tea is commonly infused into all sorts of dishes, from thunder tea rice in Hakka cuisine to matcha ice cream to tea-flavoured mooncakes. This is something that Pekoe & Imp has been experimenting with for years, and one of its most successful collaborations is with local artisanal brand Fossa Chocolate.
“We started partnering with Fossa for tea and chocolate pairing workshops, and over time we decided to just combine it into one thing,” shares Li from Pekoe & Imp. “We’re all geeks, so the taste tests are a lot of fun.”
Some of their most interesting flavours include Duck Shit Dancong Dark Milk Chocolate – so named because the tea leaves come from a mountain in China that literally translates as “duck shit” – and the intensely floral Himalayan Royale Tips Hongcha.
Speaking with all these experts reveals that there are myriad reasons to love tea. From its delicious taste to how it brings people together, to its nourishing qualities, tea clearly plays an important role in modern life.
And while the way we enjoy the drink will no doubt continue to evolve, it’s exciting to know that we already have so many ways to encounter a great brew around Singapore.
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