Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date. This week, we speak to Betsy Kwong of Boon Tea.
The ceremony of tea is an art long steeped in Asian traditions. Growing up in Hong Kong, it is not uncommon to regularly host family gatherings in Chinese banquet restaurants for yum cha, or have bitter herbal teas lovingly forced down our throats when we’re feeling under the weather. During chickenpox outbreaks, it is also a routine remedy for the afflicted to be gently dunked into a bath filled with neem leaves to calm the itch and inflammation. Yeah, tea is a pretty big deal here.
Having grown up surrounded by tea in the purest, most traditional sense, moving to New York in 2014 to pursue her first job opportunity in the publishing world was an eye-opener for Betsy Kwong. “It was the first time I ever had a matcha latte,” she says. “I never knew tea could be so versatile.”
Just like that, a new passion was ignited. Fast forward to 2019 and we see the unveiling of Kwong’s carefully sourced tea products under her brand Boon Tea (本恩雅集). “I personally travelled to countless tea plantations across Asia to source the right products for my brand. It was important that I worked with companies which are organic and ethical with a very clean practice,” she explains.
“I had my first physical launch in Hong Kong back in December 2020 at the Soho House Christmas market. It was great to be able to talk to customers face-to-face and get their feedback on my products,” she says. “Thankfully, I received a really positive response both about the packaging — which I deliberately designed to be both recyclable or reusable — and the high quality of the teas.”
“Some of my customers, after trying the samples, were shocked that it’s been brewed with just the base leaves. They ask if I added any syrups or extra flowers to enhance the taste, but no, it’s pure, wholesome produce.”
Boon Tea also showcases a range of tea ware creations of up-and-coming female ceramicists. Kwong is currently working with Christina Liu (Taiwan) and Shin Kyung Hee (South Korea) for her upcoming range.
Parallel to her passion for tea, Kwong is also a registered 500-Hour yoga teacher in the Tantric Hatha Tradition. She blends her practice with tea ceremonies in private workshops across the city in the aim to bring more peace and conscientiousness to her customers.
Name: Betsy Kwong
Occupation: Writer, Founder of Boon Tea & Boon Yoga
1. What is your life motto?
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
2. Who is your role model?
Audrey Hepburn. I aspire to be a woman of grace, eloquence, and compassion, as she was. Plus, Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s are two of my favourite films!
3. What was your first job?
Marketing Assistant at Random House Children’s Books in New York City. I learned so much, and the experience helped pave the way for me to eventually create my own brand and storytelling.
4. When was the last time you drove a car?
Almost every day. I need the flexibility since my schedule is very irregular.
5. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
Books, which keeps me informed, creative, entertained, and just generally sane. Also, my crystals and minerals collection—they make me so happy just by looking at them.
6. Which phone app do you think more people should know about?
I’m such a granny when it comes to technology, so I’m rarely on my phone, but I do listen to podcasts on Stitcher, which is free, and you get tons of great content.
7. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
The crowds and the noise that comes with it! I’m an introvert so I’m most at peace in solitude and a quiet surrounding.
8. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
New Orleans, Louisiana because I love jazz music, and Santorini in Greece because blue and white are my favourite colours, and that ocean view—who can resist!
9. What is one movie everyone should see?
Green Book – it’s funny, it’s hopeful, and it’s poignant. Not to mention the immaculate script, animated music, and flawless acting and casting—this is an Oscar-winning film for a reason.
10. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
I like warm weather and the ocean, so I would be happy to spend most of my time in Los Angeles (where I was before the pandemic), Okinawa in Japan (for their fulfilling food and vibrant culture) or anywhere in South of France (because lavender and French cuisine!).
11. If you could invite any five people in the world to your dream dinner party, who would they be?
I admire authors and film directors for their way of approaching matters from a big picture point of view while paying critical attention to details. N.K. Jemisin writes some of the most poignant contemporary speculative fiction and has been a source of illumination and entertainment for me. V.E. Schwab with her beautiful prose and quirky characters has elevated the fantasy genre across all ages, which is empowering. Roald Dahl, for he has written some of my favourite children’s books, such as Matilda and The BFG. I love gothic with a touch of humour and Tim Burton gets the tone just right. Christopher Nolan for his sensitivity to and portrayal of the human emotion is so captivating.
12. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
One Republic – “Good Life.”
13. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
My parents have always treated me as an adult, supported me, and been respectful of my decisions, so I tell them basically everything!
14. What was the best gift you ever received?
Birthday cards! It’s a lovely thought that someone has taken the time to sit down and write something for you in pen on paper. It doesn’t have to be poetry, just genuine and honest words. I think birthday cards are particularly precious considering how much we rely on technology nowadays.
15. What energises you about your work?
I’m so lucky to be doing what I love, so I’m inherently self-motivated; but, on some challenging days, I remind myself of just how fortunate I am to be living this life and reinforce the purpose for why I’m doing what I’m doing.
16. Start your life again at age 15 with all the knowledge you have now, or fast forward 10 years?
One thing I learned from time traveling movies and books is that you don’t want to mess with time! I’m happy with going on the ride with what the present day is offering.
17. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.
Meeting my dog, Bailey, for the first time when I picked him up while I was still living in California. Heart pounding, palms sweating… all that jazz.
18. Do you believe in astrology? Why or why not?
I think there’s solid ground for it and it helps with making sense of any transformations or discrepancies in life that logic cannot explain.
19. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done, and why?
Moving to New York City – I had no family and hardly any friends there, but I did it because I really wanted a career in publishing and that’s the place to be.
20. A genie gives you three wishes — what are they?
I’m very old-school—I wish for health, prosperity, and every happiness to me and all those I care about.
21. Your go-to coffee order?
I don’t drink coffee so it’ll be a matcha latte or herbal tea for me!
22. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
23. If you could snap your fingers and fix one thing about the world, what would it be?
Discrimination and prejudice.
24. What’s the best or worst career advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to take credit for what you’ve done and achieved. It shows your worth and value and that you care about what you’re doing. Do it in a pleasant manner though.
25. When was the last time you felt starstruck?
Watching Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name redefined masculinity for me.
26. What is the last dream you remember waking up to?
I can never remember my dreams!
27. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
My parents. They’ve taught me very earlier on that we all have our own limits and values in life, and the only thing we can and need to do is try our very best.