“I wouldn’t use the word ‘convert’,” laughed Nana Chan when asked if she was on a mission to turn coffee drinkers onto tea.
The soft-spoken owner of teakha has certainly elevated the tea drinking experience in Hong Kong with not one, but two cosy tea cafes right smack in the hipster havens of Tai Ping Shan Road and more recently, Po Tuck Street.
Judging by how hard it is to get a seat at either teakha on any given day, Team Tea Leaves seems to be growing.
“Tea is so diverse,” she explained. “Coffee is more or less quite strong, but tea can range from a light white or green tea to a really strong black tea. There are different kinds of tea to suit every mood and personality, and it’s something that’s greatly overlooked.”
Related: 10 best coffee spots in Hong Kong
Don’t expect to be asked the ever-divisive question of “Coffee or tea?” at teakha though, where the menu is solely leafy. “It’s not that I hate coffee, but it’s not something I love, so I wouldn’t be able to make it the best,” said Chan. “But, I do love tea, so I believe the tea I make will be the best.”
A literal Tastemaker, Chan sat down with us at teakha kitchen to discuss her ambitions growing up, the challenges of running a business in Hong Kong and what’s coming up.
Growing up… I went through different phases. I remember wanting to be an FBI agent (that was when I was really into The X-Files). I also wanted to be an astronaut at some point, which is why I started off doing aeronautical engineering in university.
In the back of my mind… I always wanted to have my own tea shop. Other tea shops were either really traditional, quiet and zen (and don’t serve food), or you had to go to a hotel for a high tea kind of experience. There’s nothing with a cafe-like environment — it’s always just coffee — so I wanted to create something that served only tea and cakes.
The major challenges of running a business in Hong Kong are… staffing. Rent is obviously really expensive but it’s something you can anticipate, whereas staff are always moving around. You never know how long they’ll stay. I used to get really personal about it, but now it’s just the way it is.
If I wanted an easy life… I’d definitely choose not to be a boss. When you’re younger, you think you don’t want people telling you what to do, but it was only when I started my own business that I realized how much there was to think about. There’s not really a day that I can shut off.
One of the worst decisions I’ve ever made was… to get my MBA. Most people think it’s the best year of their life, but it was the total opposite of what I believed in. They teach you mostly about going out and looking for successful businesses, buying in, and then thinking about an exit strategy and when to sell, in order to make the most money.
I don’t have an exit strategy because… if you have your own business, shouldn’t it be something that you love and are passionate about? I think that you have to believe in your product, which is why we don’t sell coffee.
Having good taste is… such a subjective thing. I think it’s important to not be influenced by what people think and to have your own opinions. It’s also about being open minded about everything, curious about new colours, tastes and ideas, and incorporating that into your personal style.
You know you’re a tea snob when… you go to a restaurant and say, “Oh my god, Lipton (or Twinings)!”
The next big thing in tea is… pu-erh tea. I’ve noticed younger people starting to appreciate it. It used to be a really traditional old Chinese man kind of drink, but I think it’s gotten younger.
To disconnect… I like to hike a lot. I go on a big hiking holiday once a year. Last year, it was to Bhutan where I did a four-day hike, and the year before, I did a trek in Morocco. I also like to cook, especially Chinese food.
What’s next… I’m working on this other brand called Plantation, a brand for selling my own tea. We’re already selling to some restaurants and a hotel. Our website is ready but we’re currently working on the e-commerce side.
teakha kitchen, 1/F, 18 Po Tuck Street, Sai Wan, Hong Kong,+852 3956 9009, teakha.com