Priscilla Tan  |  Singapore
Published 2015-09-02 14:00:48

It was a one-year trip to Shanghai that triggered Pei Yong to start a tea business. The former English-Chinese translator who’s currently working as a copywriter at a publishing house has had a love for tea ever since she was a child. Speaking about the tea culture in Singapore, she lamented, “I realised that there is so much complexity to Chinese teas that goes unappreciated here.”

An enthusiast when it comes to urban farming, Pei Yong grows her own herbs in the kitchen and makes regular visits to ComCrop, Singapore’s first rooftop farm in the middle of Orchard Road.

Originally, Pin Tea 品茶 set out to only include single variety teas in their product lineup, but after realising the local market is very eager about the idea behind tea blends, they decided to incorporate them in their range. Pin Tea strives to throw artificial flavourings on the scrap heap and use herbs and flowers in their products.

The Starbucks Phase

Image Credit: Pin Tea

During our interview, Pei Yong shared an interesting fact about the blends used by big commercial brands: most of them put in chemical fragrances to artificially reproduce the tea scent. “The main message we want to spread is that if you have top-notch teas, you don’t need any of these gimmicks. We want people to drink tea, not chemicals.”

She continued, “If you take the coffee culture in Singapore as a parallel, I think our tea drinking culture is still very much in its ‘Starbucks phase’ that coffee was in a few years ago. Instead of appreciating the true flavour of the coffee, people are ordering lattes flavoured with artificial vanilla or hazelnut syrup.”

Pei Yong’s remark is on point, and it is the reason why she has big dreams about the tea culture here. “We want to get tea appreciation in Singapore to where the speciality coffee scene is today: where people know how to identify their teas by their leaf variety, taste profile, country of origin and degree of roasting.”

The Singapore Collection

Image Credit: Pin Tea

Which is why Pin Tea has come up with a uniquely Singaporean tea collection. The three flavours that represent the main ethnic groups in the country are: Amoy Ahoy (Chinatown; smoky oolong tea), Tekka Minute (Little India; silver pearl jasmine tea) and Pei Yong’s personal favourite, Kampong Glamour (Arab Street; peppermint tea).

The other four flavours that represent our local neighbourhoods are: Marina Magic, a caffeine-free lemongrass ginger tea; Sentosa Sunrise, a darjeeling black tea; Cha Cha Changi, Pin Tea’s best-selling rose oolong tea; and Ooh La Orchard, a premium aged pu-erh tea.

“We don’t grow teas in Singapore, unfortunately, so our Singapore collection is put together based on different impressions we get from each of the neighbourhoods.”

It took Pin Tea four months to mull over the tea names. Speaking about the brainstorming process, Pei Yong shared, “We start by taking a walk through each neighbourhood and observing what goes on through the course of the day, and recording our impressions. We then have a discussion with our tea master to source teas from their network of tea growers around the region that would best fit.”

On Their Partnership With Tea Purists

Image Credit: Pin Tea

Pei Yong further shared that Pin Tea works mainly with a Singaporean father-and-son team that runs a 100-year-old tea merchant business. Describing the pair as “tea purists” who have connections with some of China’s top tea growers, they only use leaves from the camellia sinensis plant and treat rooibos or herbal teas as infusions.

“Initially our tea masters were wondering why I wanted ingredients not usually put in tea, but soon they also got quite excited about the idea of doing local-inspired blends, especially the idea of using traditional tastes such as bandung as an inspiration, as long as they get to showcase the teas in their best form. They keep us real, in a way,” Pei Yong quipped.

On Pin Tea’s Future

Image Credit: Pin Tea

As the interview drew to a close, Pei Yong talked about Pin Tea’s future plans. According to the founder, the startup will soon be launching its eighth flavour — word is, it’ll either be a glutinous rice or Pandan-based tea inspired by the Peranakan culture in Katong.

There will also be “a special seasonal Moonlight tea” for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival. Flavours inspired by other countries and cities are currently in the works.

“We want to step in to create a brand that represents Singapore and Asia as it is today — modern, tech-savvy, well-travelled — and prove that being proudly Singaporean can have a global appeal.”

Pin Tea’s products are going at $18 for 12 teabags and $25 for 18 teabags. They are available at retailers such as Naiise Orchard, Naiise Central, Naiise Westgate, SPR MRKT and Candlenut Kitchen. Visit their official website for more info.

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