Before the year comes to an end and fresh new lists of predictions are rolled out, let’s take a look at the tea trend that everyone was prophesying as the “new coffee trend”.
We have all been touched by coffee’s third wave with its latte art, single origin coffees, cold brews, cool coffee machines and even cooler tattoo-engraved baristas. A new cafe seemed to pop up every week in the Klang Valley and beyond during the height of coffee’s relentless march.
That a new tea trend was brewing was welcome news to a coffee-saturated city. We have been drinking low quality teh o kosong for far too long and look forward to having our tea drinking revolutionised, the way our coffee has been forever changed.
When Starbucks bought Teavana, which has 301 stores in the United States, in 2012, everyone thought it was a sign that tea would be heading for a renaissance. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation notes that as of 2015, the most consumed beverage in the world, after water, is tea.
About six billion cups of tea per day are consumed worldwide, and yet, we still don’t know the equivalent of a barista in the tea world.
The closest is a tea sommelier or tea master, a title reserved for those who have ingrained themselves in the intricate art of tea making and have spent years perfecting their skills. For a beverage that has been around for over 5,000 years, tea is still a mystery to most people.
I am still waiting ... for a serious tea salon or tea truck to appear in my neck of the woods. Or the occasional pop-up perhaps?
So what is all the hype about?
The new tea trend is characterised by specialty teas, loose leaves, custom blends, mindful tea preparation and sourcing, equipment and preparation paraphernalia, new approaches to the tea service, and new ways to experience tea.
In the United States, a lot of it is about matcha and iced teas. When New York’s first matcha cafe, MatchaBar opened in Brooklyn, one health and wellness magazine headlined “Tea is the new coffee”.
MatchaBar founders Max and Graham Fortgang said they fell in love with the way matcha made them feel and after discovering matcha, the brothers abandoned coffee and “haven’t had a coffee in over a year”.
They see matcha as the future, Well+Good reported.
In “Tea culture blossoms in New York” New York Times reported last year that high-end restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park, Atera, Blanca and Betony have extensive tea lists – Eleven Madison offers 32 types of tea served by the pot – and matcha, in particular, is in vogue.
Vogue London earlier this year released a list of the best afternoon teas in London – Claridges, Scandal Water at The Edition, Café Royal, Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley, The Ritz, Sketch, Modern Pantry, and Ting at the Shard, Shangri-La – quoting author Henry James in The Portrait Of A Lady that “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Much ado about tea
All teas come from one plant, Camellia sinensis. Its two main cultivars, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica are responsible for Chinese teas and Indian Assam teas respectively.
White tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, and every other variation are all processed from the two cultivars. The difference is in how the leaves are processed and prepared: Pu-erh, a Chinese black tea, is oxidised and fermented, while Japanese matcha, a variety of powdered green tea is grown in the shade for about three weeks before harvest. Other true teas consist of dried tea leaves with the addition of blossoms such as jasmine to make jasmine tea and bergamot oil for Earl Grey.
The new tea regime is inclusive – of flowers, leaves, roots, shoots and twigs, reflecting a more adventurous global spirit and diversified interest in the natural world and tastes. Herbal teas or tisanes like rooibos tea, yerba mate, chamomile, lavender, rose, and jasmine are considered part of the tea community as they are generally brewed in the same way as Camellia sinesis leaves.
Like coffee, tea is trying to pin point to a single origin to stretch the tea journey – and our imagination – from farm to cup.
Single origin tea is referred to tea that has a single region of origin – a specific sub-region of a country – or for smaller countries, the country itself. These single origin teas are influenced by the areas in which they are grown, showing unique characteristics of the terroir.
Dilmah has its Single Region Selection teas that includes English Breakfast from Sri Lanka’s Dimbula Valley, and Bergamot infused Earl Grey from the Ratnapura region. Single origin teas are often contrasted with blends, which combine tea produced in different regions.
Where to have a brew
The Good Tea Company
Adlina Amiruddin founded The Good Tea Company in 2011, and gets her teas from suppliers in India, Taiwan and Japan and blends them in her home in Shah Alam.
“It’s just me and my mother, trying out different blends. That’s the good thing about tea – it is open to intepretations. Our English Breakfast is stronger compared to others and Lady Grey has a hint of roses. We use food grade essential oil in our teas,” explains Adlina.
There are currently around 34 types of blends that The Good Tea Company sells online.
The most expensive is the rare Darjeeling White Tea which goes for RM75 per 50g, while other everyday teas like English Breakfast and Assam are priced at RM30 per 50g.
Apart from online sales, Adlina approaches restaurants and cafes to introduce her selection of teas, and sets up stalls at bazaars.
It was during one of the meet-ups that Adlina found one of her loyal clients, Miss Ellie Tea House in Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur.
Miss Ellie Tea House
Justin Wong runs the place with the help of his family. With a foundation in classic French cooking, he specialised in Pastry at the William Angliss Institute of Tafe in Melbourne, Australia. But more than pastries and delectable cakes, patrons return to Miss Ellie for the “English tea experience”.
“My late father was fascinated with the ‘English gentleman’ way of living. This cafe was modelled after his fascination,” says Wong.
They don’t use fancy brewing machines or science to brew their teas, and stick to the classic Dar-jeeling, Earl Grey, Afternoon Tea, Assam and Oolong.
“Tea in pot, hot water, and good to go,” says Wong.
A pot of tea for one is priced at RM6.50 and for two, RM12.
Although refill is available here, there is a reminder on the menu that “Refills are not recommended as steeping used tea leaves will result in an unpleasant bitter beverage of poorer quality.”
Adlina says the optimum time to leave tea leaves in hot water is between three to five minutes.
“Most Malaysians prefer to have their tea light, so I tell restaurateurs to do it for only three minutes. But no matter what, do not steep your tea in water for too long. That is the worst you can do to the flavour,” she warns.
For the best cup of tea, Adlina suggests to heat the teapot with water that has just come to a boil. Discard the water. Use 200-240ml of freshly boiled water for every 2g of tea, and let it sit for no longer than five minutes, and pour through a strainer into a cup.
“Don’t use boiling hot water to make green tea or white tea, as the heat would destroy the taste profiles. So what I suggest is, let the water boil, and wait one or two minutes before you use it.”
Where: 7, Jalan H 3, Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur.
The Tea Republic
“Temperature and quality of water are very important when it comes to making tea,” says Sumita J. Singam-Takacs, owner.
Located in Bangsar Shopping Centre in KL, The Tea Republic has its own strong following, customers who have come to enjoy Sumita’s take on tea.
“I started making my signature blends in 2013. Every single tea on the menu was created by me,” she says. Her current blender is in Germany, so there is a lot of back and forth that goes between them when deciding on flavours. Her tea blends are also available for purchase – at the store and online.
The challenge however is to get people to embrace tea as much as they embrace coffee, providing the same kind of experience as coffee does, but without losing the essence of tea.
“It will be difficult but not impossible,” says Sumita. “There is a demand for tea now, though not as significantly high as for coffee. But tea is definitely a trend worth following.”
Where: S132, 2nd Floor, Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur.
Ami Sugiyama of Tea Press in Damansara Uptown in Petaling Jaya is doing what many young people in Japan are not doing – making tea popular. “The younger generation doesn’t buy tea leaves anymore. They prefer drinking coffee now,” says the trained tea sommelier.
Tea Press is the joint effort of 100 tea specialists in Shizuoka, where green tea is grown on the edges of Mount Fuji, to bring tea outside of Japan. While keeping everything as traditional as possible in the outlet, Tea Press offers an interestingly modern “tea espresso”. Using a coffee machine, Sugiyama extracts 50ml of concentrated Hojicha that gives a slight burnt aftertaste. “Hoji” means roasted green tea. Customers can sit at the counter and be enthralled by the intricate tea making happening in front of them.
“Part of the Japanese tea culture is Omotenashi (hospitality). We feel the need to include our non-Japanese customers in our tea culture. Making tea in front of them allows them to ask questions about what we are doing and what they are served. Tea tastes different to each individual. It is up to us to make them come back,” says Sugiyama.
The food menu at Tea Press is catered to enhance the tea experience with dishes like chimaki (glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in edible lotus leaves), ochaduke (mackerel and rice with green tea) and a small variety of tea-based desserts.
Where: 46, Jalan SS 21/39, Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya.
Lancelot Tea Guild
At Lancelot Tea Guild in Bandar Sunway, the tea menu comes with food pairing suggestions. A pot of Ceylon Orange Pekoe goes well with carrot cake, or other creamy and sweet desserts, and their floral Picaddilly Blend tastes great with butter or cheese-based desserts. They also offer a variety of tea-based mocktails at RM13.90.
“The suggestions are there to help our customers decide their food selections. We have done the taste testings and come up with best flavours that complement the tea’s taste profile,” says co-owner Y.S Sum.
At Lancelot, tea is brewed from loose tea leaves and the original flavour remains intact thanks to their “steampunk” brewing method.
Steampunk is a top of the line brewing machine that extracts flavours from tea leaves using steam and vacuum. Connected to an app, tea makers can program the temperature, brewing time and other brewing factors to ensure that they get consistent result.
“We get optimum flavours from the tea leaves on the first extraction itself. You cannot reuse the tea leaves for another drink,” says Sum.
Where: 5A, Nadayu 28 Dagang, Jalan PJS 11/7, Bandar Sunway, Selangor.
TWG Tea Salon and Boutique
The menu at TWG unfurls with so many choices that even a savvy tea-drinker may need to take a moment – that’s fine, relax in one of the wicker-backed chairs at the salon-boutique and take your time. Tea is, after all, about appreciating the moment.
“We actually do want people to feel a little overwhelmed when they look at our list of teas, because we just have so many,” says Louise Benzrihem, assistant PR director for the Singapore-born luxury tea brand founded in 2008.
That’s a total portfolio of about 800, with about 500 teas usually found in a salon – black, white, yellow, green, red, blue (which is what TWG Tea calls oolong) and matured teas. There are single estate teas and blends, infused with fruits, flowers, even precious calambac, a type of oud (agarwood).
The salon teapots don’t just wear gold armour to evoke a sense of luxe indulgence – the velveteen lining of the shiny shells keeps the teapot warm. Time and temperature for specific tea infusions vary, but TWG teas are never made with boiling water.
“Tea must be made with water that still contains oxygen, in order to be full-flavoured – boiling would negate that,” says Vincent Piovan, assistant operations manager at TWG Tea.
To match the teas from around the world, order from a menu of tea-spiked offerings, which range from eggs scrambled with matcha (or saffron or white truffle oil) to salmon in a creamy sauce infused with the brand’s iconic Silver Moon, green tea redolent of red berries and vanilla.
Or nibble on a macaron or six; these delicate sweets are made more complex with the inclusion of tea. If you want to extend the experience, there’s always tea chocolate, tea jelly, shortbread or paraphernalia to take home, along with the gorgeously-packaged teas. – Suzanne Lazaroo
Where: Pavilion Bukit Bintang and The Gardens Mid-Valley, KL.