A typical Bak Kut Teh (pork ribs soup) meal would not seem complete without a good pot of tea by its side, in fact bak kut teh is literally translated into Mandarin as "meat, bone, tea", which just shows how important tea is to the overall bak kut teh eating experience. Admittedly, I just eat and drink, without thinking much into this pairing, nor the type of tea leaves used, until I met Kenry Peh over lunch at Goldleaf New Taiwan Porridge Restaurant.
Kenry came across as very soft spoken and humble, little did I realized that this is the man holding forth a family business established since 1925. He is the 4th generation owner of Pek Sin Choon, one of the oldest tea merchants in Singapore. Pek Sin Choon supplies tea leaves to 80% of the local bak kut teh restaurants and stalls! Now I know where those packets of "Unknown Fragrance 不知香" tea accompanying my bak kut teh meal comes from, and actually made an attempt at hand-packaging it!
It was only recently during our meal at Lau Ah Tee Bak Kut Teh that we finally made plans to visit Pek Sin Choon at Mosque Street near Chinatown. Stepping in, the small shop house unit breathes of a very nostalgic feel and I seemed to be transported to a dimension where time has stood still.
Almost every corner are filled to the brim with packs of tea leaves, except the necessary walkways and the little nook where Kenry holds his tea appreciation sessions. Pek Sin Choon currently carry almost 100 of special in-house blends, all meticulously paired using different types and grades of both old and new tea leaves. The unique fragrance of each blend is found only at Pek Sin Choon.
It would be imperative to try at least a pot of tea during the visit, and I couldn't be more honored to have Kenry himself showing me the art of Gongfu Tea “工夫茶”. Gongfu tea relates to the art of brewing tea with skill and patience. Putting in effort and dedication for constant practices makes the mastery of this art form perfect in time to come.
I do not profess to be any tea expert after the Gongfu tea session, but the sheer variety of tea available, and science of needing different optimal temperature and timing to bring out each of their best properties, certainly intrigued me and piqued my interest in Chinese tea by another notch.
What also impressed me was the wealth of tea knowledge that Kenry possessed, accumulated since young from his tenure as an apprentice, learning and picking up the ropes just like anyone else, without any preferential treatment. Now as the head of the family business, the respect he commands are truly deserving.
There are traditions which Kenry continues to uphold, including the way tea packaging are still done manually by hand, such as this popular "Unknown Fragrance 不知香" tea. It is actually a premium blend of Wuyi Oolong and Anxi tea, specially created by Kenry's grandfather to accentuate the bak kut teh eating experience. The tea is strong enough to effectively cut through any greasiness associated with the fattiness of the pork rib soup, leaving the palate refresh with a bittersweet aftertaste.
If you don't know where the fragrance comes from, now you know :p
How tea and food complement each other is very much akin to wine and food pairing in the western society. I, as a layperson, would spare myself of the attempt to venture further into this topic for now.
What I've since learn is that the heritage of tea-drinking has a much deeper meaning: It's about connecting people, just like how we had connected over a bak kut teh meal with a pot of tea by the side.
Special thanks to Kenry, for this special lesson in life :)
If you're unable to view the embedded version, please follow this link:
Pek Sin Choon 白新春茶庄
Address: 36 Mosque Street, Singapore 059514
Contact: +65 6323 3005