Singapore loves its breakfast beverages. Coffee, for one, has an ever-growing national presence catalysed by our iron-clad café culture. Tea, especially with the current matcha wave, is also becoming a firm rival. The two drinks are also at the heart of our beloved coffee shop, or kopitiam scene, where a morning meal would be amiss without a beer mug full of teh or kopi.
Chinese tea, on the other hand, is a bit of an intermediary. It usually has a place during banquets, or a Chinese meal, but rarely do we seek it out the way we would with cold brew coffee or bubble teas.
Some have the impression that Chinese tea is too old-fashioned, or reserved for an aged crowd. We think there’s a lot of charm to be had with teas that date back to the Tang Dynasty, and are still processed with ancient methods today. One cannot forget the significance these teas have to Chinese culture and history, as well as the fact that each type of tea is highly complex.
Chinese tea comes in a few forms — non-fermented, scented, smoked, fermented, semi-fermented, and aged. It is as nuanced as wine. A tea house is your best bet to gain a full appreciation of anything between long jing and pu’erh.
We’ve compiled a handful of Chinese tea houses and merchants to visit for a tasting. The next time you plan to café-hop, give these a shot instead.
Tian Fu Tea Room has a broad range of over 30 different Chinese teas. You have the usual green and red varieties, as well as more exclusive, yellow and white unfermented versions. Each comes brewed by an in-house expert, which you can then enjoy with small bites like dried olives. Tian Fu also has a delectable Imperial High Tea set, which pairs nine types of dim sum with three different teas.
Tian Fu Tea Room, Parkroyal on Kitchener Road, 181 Kitchener Rd, Singapore 208533, +65 6428 3170
Yixing Xuan is a restaurant and tea merchant. Head over for a cuppa and a meal, browse their brewing equipment, or perhaps sign up for a tea-making workshop. If you want a sensorial experience, opt for the Dragon Pearl tea, where a flower will bloom as the leaves are steeped in water.
Yixing Xuan Tea House, 78 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088499, +65 6224 6961
Tea Chapter exudes olden-day East Asian charm. Its various themed rooms inspired by different East Asian cultures makes it a unique sight, and it is perhaps for this reason that Queen Elizabeth II made Tea Chapter a pit stop when she visited in 1989. She had a pot of imperial golden cassia tea, which you can still order at this 25 year-old institution, and enjoy it with cookies or a dim sum platter.
Tea Chapter, 9 Neil Rd, Singapore 088808, +65 6226 1175
Pek Sin Choon has been around for 92 years, making it the oldest tea merchant on the list. They’re best known for being the suppliers to almost all the bak kut teh stores in Singapore, and have over 100 varieties of tea to offer. Each order is packed by hand in traditional paper, which you can purchase to take home. If you want a sit-down session, schedule a tea tasting in advance. The owner, Kenny Peh, is also extremely friendly and more than willing to share his expertise.
Pek Sin Choon, 36 Mosque St, Singapore 059514, +65 6323 3238
Tea Bone Zen Mind spans two shophouses and three stories along Emerald Hill. It used to be the home of wealthy Straits Chinese merchants, and has since been transformed into an appointment-only tea house. Book a tea sampling session at least four days in advance, and enjoy a unique omakase-style tea pairing, then visit the museum where exclusive, collectible wares are on display. Tea Bone Zen Mind also caters to connoisseurs, with rare old matcha, white mountain tea or pu’erh available to taste. Set aside a good half day if you’re visiting this enchanting spot.
Tea Bone Zen Mind, 98 Emerald Hill Road, Singapore 229374, +65 6334 4212