Singapore isn’t really known for its tea houses; the majority situated in the Hangzhou and Suzhou provinces of East China at the heart of the former Qing empire. And with Costa chains springing up on nearly every street in Singapore, finding a place where you can imbibe the “imperial beverage” of ancient China is becoming all the more challenging. But, there are still small pockets of the city where these charming tea houses continue to thrive despite the widespread fascination with espresso. Here we explore just a few of Singapore’s finest.
Yixing Xuan Teahouse
30/32 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088453
Whilst there are few places in Singapore where you can enjoy a truly authentic Chinese tea experience, there’s only one where you can have a history lesson thrown in to boot. That’s exactly what owner Vincent Low envisaged 25 years ago when he created Yixing Xuan – part tea school, part authentic tea house in the bustling Central Business District of Singapore. His vision was born from the desire to revive the appreciation for tea in a fast-paced, ever evolving city, and help natives rediscover their cultural roots.
With decorative paper lanterns swaying in the breeze and vast swathes of wall space taken up by neatly stocked shelves of boxed teas, Vincent’s ambient coffee shop cum retail space bears all the hallmarks of a traditional Chinese tea house. The faint waft of dim sum permeates the earthy scent of the dining room, which is little more than a small coffee shop with tables neatly arranged along each wall. It’s this down-to-earth character that keeps Vincent’s cult following of tea connoisseurs coming back for more. That, and the fascinating way oolongs are brewed in a ceramic pot over a naked flame at your table. A round of tea (for up to three people) will set you back around £9 ($15), but this also includes a brief lesson about your tea’s origins and how to prepare it in accordance with Chinese custom.
LongRun Tea Room
02-274, Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore 039594
LongRun are an omnipresent puer tea brand in China, with factories in Yunnan and department stores in nearly every major city across the country.
LongRun’s retail store in the trendy shopping hub of Marina Bay is one of the few that also doubles as an authentic Chinese tearoom, with in excess of ten different types of puer tea featured on the menu. Unlike the humble Yixing Xuan, the ambience here fuses the sophistication of a hotel restaurant with the contemporary cool of your favourite coffee house, making it a popular gathering spot for Singapore’s refined ladies – and the cool crowd.
LongRun prides itself on strict quality control, and as such, you’ll find that every aspect of the tea preparation process is carried out by trained staff to suit your individual tastes. The Lemon and Blueberry Pu-erh varieties are summer favourites, and a perfect digestif after a delicious lunch of Sweet and Sour Vol au Vents or Mushroom Baked Rice. Follow up with a delicious fruity dessert such as the famed Mango Mousse, or Dried Cranberry Cheesecake drizzled with Mango Sauce.
9 and 11 Neil Road, Chinatown, Singapore 088808
Singapore’s tea houses run the gamut of style and sophistication, yet few can match Chinatown’s iconic Tea Chapter for genuine authenticity. Reached by a narrow flight of wooden stairs on Neil Road, Tea Chapter instantly transports visitors into a world of ancient traditions and intriguing earthy smells that instantly engulf the senses. As is custom in traditional Chinese tearooms, guests must remove their footwear prior to entering the tea shop. You will then be given a choice of table: Japanese (cushions on the floor), Korean (low tables with small stools) or Chinese (a normal café table). Tea Chapter’s fascinating array of teas include a fine selection of oolong varieties from the North East of China, including Golden Cassia, supped by Queen Elizabeth II on her visit in 1989. After you’ve made your tea selection, you’ll be provided with the ceremonial tools and a silver pot of steaming hot water to infuse your leaves. Staff are always on hand to aid novices, and will even give you a brief history lesson on the origins of your chosen variety!
TWG Tea Salon and Boutique
ION Orchard Shopping Mall, 2 Orchard Turn, Singapore 238801
Owned by the prestigious Singapore-based Wellness Group, TWG Tea Salon and Boutique is far more than your average Singapore tea house. For starters it’s situated within the ultra-hip ION Orchard Shopping and Lifestyle Mall; an innovative 21st Century shopping centre crammed full of concept stores, food and beverage outlets and lifestyle salons. Secondly, the interior is a far cry from the Oriental inspired minimalism of LongRun and Tea Chapter.
Stepping into this fashionable tea house is like being transported back in time to the imperial tea houses of the Qing Dynasty; fashionably styled to emulate the opulence of a Parisian salon. Polished gold tea boxes decorate the floor-to-ceiling mahogany shelves behind the counter, and white linens add a touch of old-fashioned elegance rarely found outside of Singapore’s most luxuriant hotels. As for the tea, guests will find themselves spoiled for choice by the sheer variety on offer; over 400 varieties ranging from the brand’s signature 1837 Black Tea to modern fusion varieties such as Napoleon and Caramel, and Earl Grey Fortune infused with chocolate. A high tea menu of freshly baked choux pastries, tartlets and madeleines compliments the wondrous variety of tea on offer, boxes of which can be picked up as souvenirs in the TWG Boutique from around £3.50 ($5).