4 Great Places For Tea
From fragrant Japanese matcha to thick Thai iced tea, this is for lovers of the leaf. (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1347, Aug 11, 2016.)
#01-72 ICON VILLAGE, 12 GOPENG ST, S078877. TEL: 9837-3187. Open daily noon-8pm. Last orders at closing. www.matchaya.sg
Hidden away in a corner of the labyrinthine shopping arcade below The Icon condominium is this takeaway tea stand, the first retail presence of local business, Matchaya. It’s owned and run by a young couple: former banker Kevin Chee, 30, and former flight stewardess Kaelyn Ong, 29. Matchaya specialises in Japanese milk teas made from custom blends of various teas sourced from farms in different prefectures in Japan. The duo said they fell in love with the earthy, complex flavours of matcha (a special grade of green tea that's ground into powder) on their numerous visits to Japan but couldn’t find anything that suited their tastes in Singapore. “A lot of matcha products available in Singapore tend to be bland or bitter, or really expensive, and we found ourselves missing the really flavourful matcha teas we’d tried. So we decided to make our own.” They started selling their wares at indie markets and online, and opened this small but chic concrete-and-wood retail store and tea stand in 2015. Pity it's all to-go only, because the snacks here are worth a try too. Think of this as the local version of Tsujiri, the mod tea shop from Kyoto, which we love.
THE TEA & BITES:
Matcha Milk Tea, $4.50 hot; $4.90 iced (8 DAYS PICK!)
We weren’t quite expecting the creamy body and wonderfully bittersweet, nutty, almost umami flavours of this baby. It’s whipped up with premium organic matcha ground from the season’s first harvest of young leaves in Uji, Kyoto. The tea powder used in the “tea ceremony style” matcha is of an even higher grade. It's served unadulterated and warm, just like in solemn tea ceremonies in Japan (except served here, alas, in paper cups). It’s offered two ways: light and foamy Usucha (see pic above), $5.20 for 70ml, or thick and concentrated Koicha, $5.50 for 40ml. We get the Usucha, and it’s smooth and spicy with an intense bitterness that subsides into a subtle, leafy sweetness.
Houjicha Milk Tea, $4.50 hot; $4.90 iced (8 DAYS PICK!)
This is made with roasted green tea from Uji, Kyoto. It’s smooth and milky with a strong toasty fragrance and bittersweet hint. Delish. Also good is the Royal Milk Tea, made from a Japanese black tea sourced from Hyogo prefecture. Fun fact: the ubiquitous “royal” milk tea is an invention of the Lipton tea company, prepared by boiling black Ceylon tea leaves in hot milk. This light version is wonderfully floral and creamy.
Houjicha Ice Cream, $5.90
Soft serve whipped up with houjicha infused milk, a recipe developed by the couple. Rich, thick and creamy with a sweet milkiness and a light hit of roast-y houjicha. Excellent. Also available in matcha and plain milk flavours.
BOTTOM LINE: Humble milk teas get a sophisticated upgrade here with delicate yet complex flavours. This place gives Tsujiri tea shop from Kyoto a run for its money with its slightly lower prices. $
2. 1872 Clipper Tea Co.
#B4-07 ION ORCHARD, 2 ORCHARD TURN, S238801. TEL: 6509-8745. Open daily 10am-10pm, last orders at closing. www.clippertea.com.sg
Electronic “steampunk” brewers that control everything from the temperature to the length of brew for consistent results.
ON THE MENU: Sixteen teas, from signature black teas to fruit-infused blends, are brewed hot via the steampunk machines and served in pretty takeaway cups. On tap, there are two milk teas and two clear ones, with the latter also serving as bases for tea mocktails. Serving the teas on tap involves injecting them with nitrogen, which sounds weird but is apparently supposed to give the brews crisper, stronger flavours.
THE TEA & BITES:
Sadly, we find the two clear teas on tap, both cold brewed Ceylon teas (where leaves are steeped in cold water for several hours), a little bland and too mild, with not much of the gentle sweetness we usually find in other cold brews. Between the two, the lightly floral Cold Brewed Green Tea is tastier. The other is a diluted Cold Brewed Black Tea. They work better as bases for the Specialty Tea Mocktails (see pic above, all $6.20) like a refreshing green tea- based Watermelon Cooler made with fresh watermelon juice and an invigorating Classic Lemon one.
There are two milk teas on tap: Matcha and Royal Tea Latte. The former is made by infusing milk with matcha powder, and it’s got a pleasantly clean earthiness. The royal tea, made from milk boiled with Ceylon black tea leaves, then left to chill, has an odd musty finish that reminds us of mushrooms. But being served on tap gives both a nicely rich mouthfeel and foamy cap.
Timeless Earl Grey, $4 (8 DAYS PICK!)
It’s fun to watch this tea bubbling away in the glass chamber of the hissing, steaming steampunk machine, like in a science experiment. Moreover, the fancy brewing treatment seems to pay off. Even though this Earl Grey is served sans milk and sugar, it is creamy and fragrant, with a lovely bergamot perfume and subtle sweetness.
Clipper has tied up with Japanese patisserie Dulcet and Studio for its snack selection. There are some Clipper exclusives, like the Tea and Biscuits Eclair ($5.90), filled with an English-breakfast tea infused cream that we find too light on the tea flavour. Much better is the Lemon Yuzu Eclair ($5.90), not exclusive to this store, but full of zingy flavours and a chewy texture.
BOTTOM LINE: The steampunk brews are the better product here as they’re less tannic and bitter than your average cup of tea, though the lack of a sit-down option at this elegant store is a bummer. It’s also a pity the steampunk teas are only served hot because while the cold teas on tap here are a fun feature, they are somewhat bland. $
#02-53 THE CENTROPOD, 80 CHANGI RD, S419715. TEL: 9068-6264. Open Mon-Sat, noon-5.30pm. Last orders at closing (last calls for delivery at 10pm). www.facebook.com/TITSingapore
ON THE MENU: A pretty wide array of Thai-inspired drinks, from the original rusty-orange classic iced tea to neon-pink Thai bandung, and lemongrass infused coolers. They’re all made to order and aren’t sitting around in a fridge ready to go. When delivered, they’re served chilled in bottles. But if you drop by the store and want a drink to go, they’re served iced in cups (three different, um, cup sizes, from a small A to a large C). We get ours in the reusable glass bottles.
Thai Bandung, from $2.50
Unlike local bandung, Thai bandung is not made with rose syrup but a red syrup flavoured with salak, or “snake fruit,” a citrusy fig-like fruit. Sadly, we find this eye-wateringly sweet, with an off-putting artificial syrupy flavour.
Original, from $2.50 (8 DAYS PICK!)
The ladies mix a few different brands of imported Thai tea leaves, traditionally spiced with ingredients like cardamom, to arrive at a special blend. Also, true to Thai tradition, they mix both evaporated and condensed milk for a balance of sweetness and creaminess. It works: smooth and rich with just the right amount of sugar. A pretty tasty rendition, with a nice nutty flavour and spiciness.
Luscious Lime, from $2.50
A “black” version of the original Thai iced tea, served with a light touch of sugar syrup and a squeeze of lime. The slightly earthy Thai spice tea blend comes out stronger here, and we like the citrusy zing of the lime.
Lemongrass, from $2.50
Basically lightly sweetened water infused with fragrant lemongrass. Refreshing and not too sweet, if a little too stingy with the lemongrass.
BOTTOM LINE: Stick to the yummy original Thai tea flavour as the other options are hit-or-miss. These drinks would be nice delivered to a party or office lunch, but we wouldn’t make the trip to the east just to grab a cup. $
4. Waan Cha
#01-45, 275 THOMSON RD, NOVENA REGENCY, S307645. TEL: 6358-0868. Open Mon-Fri, 11am-8pm; Sat noon-5pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/waanchasg
Another Thai iced tea specialist, this time at a mostly unoccupied retail development called Novena Regency. Waan Cha, which means “sweet tea” in Thai, is a local family business fronted by brother and sister team, Kelvin and Cecilia Chan, 25 and 32, and it offers Thai-inspired drinks, apparently the only idea that got the entire family excited when they were brainstorming ideas for an F&B concept. It looks like a generic bubble tea shop, with only two small tables. But the one thing that catches our eye are the funky takeaway bags they serve their drinks in: they come with a nifty handle with slots for your fingers so it’s easier to tapow several drinks at a go.
ON THE MENU: Apart from the classic Thai tea, made from a spiced tea blend sourced from a supplier in Thailand, there’re other drinks like Ovaltine and Horlicks (apparently made from Thai versions of the formula), Thai coffee and Thai syrup-flavoured sodas. The drinks here are generally well-balanced, with a good variety of flavours. There's also a tiny selection of macarons and a pretty tasty, if slightly under-set, too wobbly Thai Milk Tea Pudding (see pic below, $1.30). All hot drinks are $2.00, and iced ones cost from $2.80 for a regular size. We sample all our drinks iced.
This comes only half mixed, with some milk settling at the bottom, and a thick cap of foam on top, so you’re encouraged to stir everything together. We like the creamy body, pleasant star anise and clove spiciness and gentle tangy finish. Plus points for not being too sweet.
Iced Thai Ovaltine, from $2.80
Apparently made-in-Thailand Ovaltine is creamier and maltier than the stuff we get here. We haven’t had this drink in ages, but this is indeed very malty and rich without being too cloying. Quite yum.
Thai Green Tea, from $2.80
Thai spiced black tea spiked with a green tea blend. This bright green number has a very strong hit of jasmine, which doesn’t sit well with the milky texture. Not our fave.
Pink Milk Tea, from $2.80
We were worried from the lurid pinkness that this might turn out to be another artificially flavoured sugar bomb, but thankfully it’s not. Instead, there’s a nice touch of bracing citrus from the salak fruit syrup.
BOTTOM LINE: The rich and creamy Thai iced tea here is one of the better ones we’ve tried around the island. We also enjoyed the nostalgic drinks like Ovaltine served in nifty takeaway packets. $