Taha Bouqdib and I first met at the opening of the first TWG Salon & Boutique in the Philippines in Greenbelt 5 last November.
I found myself engrossed in conversation with the founder and visionary of TWG (“The Wellness Group”) during the event. Taha’s intense passion for tea was evident in every word he spoke. What intrigued me the most during our conversation, however, were the parallelisms I found between fine teas and wines:
Aroma/Bouquet: in Bordeaux, aromatic usually describes a young wine full of fruity or floral scents;
Finish: the smoothness or difference in taste of the wine and fine teas from your first sip to the last drop.
Meeting Taha with Maranda Barnes, his better half in life as well as in business, for the second time a few weeks ago in their home base Singapore only confirmed why the brand TWG has expanded into many other countries in such a short period of time, having been founded just six years ago. Taha speaks of the vision, aesthetics and technical aspects of tea-making while Maranda, the marketing director of TWG, ensures that the brand, products, et al. are presented properly. They actually finish each other’s sentences.
Here is their story:
Taha and Maranda incidentally met “over a cup of tea” many years back before TWG was launched in Singapore in 2007.
TWG’s vision is to juxtapose the past and the present: TWG Tea Salons & Boutiques honor the important role that Singapore’s culture and glorious past played in the history of tea in Asia (growing, harvesting, trading, drinking) by providing a modern and luxurious tea-drinking experience.
The Tea Boutique
The TWG Tea Boutique is a nostalgic celebration of the voyage of the tea clippers. Its timeless wooden panels, brass weighing scales and hardwood tea counters are sure to carry customers away on a journey of sensations. The TWG Tea Boutique’s most impressive feature is the TWG Tea wall with rows of signature yellow artisan tea tins filled with more than 450 of the most celebrated fine harvest teas and exclusive tea blends from all over the world, all of which may be purchased by weight.
The Tea Salon
The intimate Tea Salon, with its signature rattan-backed, black velvet chairs (now made from our very own Betis, Pampanga, furniture) and crisp white table linens, recalls Singapore’s early days as a trading port.
The menu features dishes developed and infused with select TWG Teas, such as Foie Gras Terrine accompanied by toasted brioche and Sakura. I particularly like Sakura Tea jelly and Summer Quiche served with mixed greens tossed in 1837 Green Tea-infused vinaigrette.
Desserts are meticulously handcrafted daily and include specialty items such as TWG Tea’s signature tea-infused macarons and tea pastries served with TWG Tea jelly and whipped cream.
Tea-flavored ice cream and sorbet, such as Napoleon Tea ice cream and Silver Moon Tea sorbet, showcase TWG Tea blends in delicious and novel manners.
And though the wine selection is limited, the white wines and bubblies are very carefully selected to pair with the food served.
To ensure good product knowledge on all fronts, The TWG Tea Academy provides training for all staff. By educating them, TWG hopes to instill passion among its people which will then be passed on to the public. With TWG’s international expansion, a dedicated training facility will be opened by the end of 2013.
Wine and tea parallels
Tasted, chosen and presented as it does with fine wines, TWG Tea makes precise indications about their country of origin, the region, the estate, the grade, the year and even the day of the harvest for all of their fine harvest teas. It is the only company in Asia which does it.
Like wines, each tea is stored, presented, infused and served in exactly the same manner as a very exquisite wine. Of course, like wine, teas can be paired in the most astonishing ways with savories, as well as sweets.
With wine, the first wine is the primary choice pick of the harvest and the second wine is the second pick. With tea, the top pick from the “Camella Assamica” (Tea Leaf) is the tip known as Flower Orange Pekoe. It is the most exquisite part. And it goes down the scale.
There are over 3,000 varieties of teas worldwide, with 90 percent of tea production coming from China.
Similar to Bordeaux’s First to Fifth Growth 1855 classification, teas are classified by color: red, white, yellow, green, blue and black tea. The red and white teas are considered the champagne of teas.
TWG Tea’s logo incorporates words that were traditionally used to describe fine wines and vintages. “Millesimesde’exception” and “Grands crus prestiges” describe the finest tea harvests. These descriptions give customers an understanding of the quality and variety of teas available at TWG Tea.
The wine industry has done a very good job of educating people about wine. TWG Tea hopes to do the same for tea—help people refine their palate and learn about the differences between the varieties available.
How does one select a drink with 450 types of tea to choose from?
To make life simpler, Taha and Maranda discuss their top picks:
Taha’s top 10 teas
1. Silver Moon Tea
“Silver Moon Tea is my first creation for TWG Tea and, to this date, is our bestseller worldwide. I first arrived in Singapore during the mid-autumn festival and this green tea with grand berry and vanilla was made to pair and balance the richness of mooncakes.”
2. Singapore Breakfast Tea
“As a Singaporean company, we wanted to create a blend to celebrate Singapore’s tea heritage and reflect the nation’s diverse ethnic populace and colorful meeting of cultures. This blend of black tea, green tea, rich vanilla and rare spices perfectly reflects this rich history.”
3. 1837 Black Tea
“This is TWG Tea’s signature black tea and made famous by our Haute Couture Tea Collection. Black tea with notes of fruits and flowers from the Bermuda triangle with a lingering aftertaste of ripe berries, anise and caramel.”
4. Saichô Tea
“I created this blend in homage to a revered tea master of ancient Japan, Saichô. This fine green tea blended with fresh pomegranate blossoms is one of my favorites, and is delicious iced.”
5. Okayti FTGFOP1
“Okayti is one of the most famous and most celebrated tea plantations from the region of Darjeeling in India spread out over undulating terrain at altitudes of 1,300-2,000 meters.”
6. White Earl Grey
“White Earl Grey is a subtle combination of bergamot and leaves of imperial silver needles that is reminiscent of sparkling moon water.”
7. Royal Moroccan Tea
“A privileged invitation evocative of a most extraordinary palace, this tea boasts one of the finest green teas and an exceptional blend of wild mints. With rare resins and fresh notes of the world’s rarest elixirs—ambry myrrh, musk and precious calambac—this blend truly yields a majestic infusion.”
8. Gyokuro Samurai
This intoxicating TWG green tea yields an exquisite nectar, boasting a tannin-free infusion with the sweet scent of fresh grass.”
9. Weekend in Casablanca Tea
“This is a private getaway in your teacup. It is a blend of green tea, black tea with a complex fruity bouquet accented by notes of wild mints.”
10. Oud Night Tea
“Oud Night Tea is a great achievement in the tea world as it was the first time oud was made into a drink. This tea reveals a rich infusion of rare calambac, incense and smoky black tea with notes of molten resin, cedar and smoldering tea flowers.”
Maranda’s top 10 picks
1/2. White Gold Tea & White Spring Tea
“Inspired by the increasing demand for white teas, we have achieved the world’s first creation of 15 fine white tea blends. Our tea masters have blended Yin Zhen, the world’s finest white tea also called ‘silver needles,’ with rare and wonderful fruits and flowers to delight and tantalize the senses of tea-drinkers everywhere.”
3. Chocolate Earl Grey
“Also a first! This rich and aromatic black tea is accented with fresh notes of rare TWG bergamot and pure dark chocolate which unite to create a marvelous and blissful blend. It also pairs very well with a meal, particularly with red meat.”
4. New York Breakfast Tea
“I am originally from the US and this strong blend of black tea is one of my favorite breakfast teas. A full-bodied, whole-leaf Assam blended with rich and malty sweetness is the perfect evocation of the sparkling city that never sleeps!”
5. Castleton SFTGFOP1
“TWG Tea just launched the 2013 Spring harvest of Darjeeling. Castleton is one of my favorite Darjeeling teas, and this black tea boasts a natural and enveloping fragrance of ripe apricots and grapes, and a unique aftertaste of green almonds and white currants.”
6. Kilauea Mountain Oolong
“Exceptionally rare and costly, this limited-harvest blue tea is grown in a cool, misty climate at an altitude of 1,100 meters in the world’s most fertile, volcanic soil. The pale yellow-green infusion yields mild tropical notes of green papaya, accented by a luscious aftertaste of ginger, honey and pine.”
7. Pu-Erh 1993
“This exceptional TWG vintage Pu-Erh boasts long, undulating leaves that have mellowed with age and developed a sweet and slightly earthy aroma. Infusing into a very dark cup, this tea yields a sweet and flowery flavor.”
8. Bain de Roses Tea
“Another wonderful Darjeeling black tea tea blended with fresh roses from Grasse and hints of vanilla. This delicate tea always reminds me of the most luxurious perfumes and is even better paired with our signature Bain de Roses Macaron!”
9. Lotus Jade Tea
“This most extraordinary green tea of Vietnam yields an intoxicating and heady aroma of water lilies. Thick and unctuous, this tea of emotion will transport and linger on the palate.”
10. Magic Moment Tea
“A magical potion that unites the delicious character of enveloping black tea, rare citrus fruits and the nutty savors of tropical coconut.”
Maranda’s picks for kids
“Red Tea, or rooibos, is produced from a bush known as the Aspalathuslinearis in South Africa. Red tea leaves are generally oxidized—a process which enhances the flavor and produces the distinctive red color after which this tea is named. A South African national beverage, this tea is 100 percent theine-free, contains a high level of antioxidants, and is very rich in vitamin C, mineral salts and protein, making it ideal for children.”
Choco Mint Truffle Tea
“With soft notes of vanilla, rich chocolate and a hint of mint, this TWG red tea of South Africa is a dessert in itself. Sweet and intoxicating.”
Lemon Bush Tea
“Red tea from South Africa blended with wild citrus fruits. Refreshing, this TWG theine-free tea can be served warm or iced any time of the day.”
Vanilla Bourbon Tea
“Red tea from South Africa blended with sweet TWG vanilla. This theine-free tea can be served warm or iced at any time of the day, and is perfect for children as well.”
Crème Caramel Tea
“Delicate red tea from South Africa with a secret TWG blend of sweet French spices. A dessert in itself, this theine-free tea can be served warm or iced, at any time of the day.”
Caribbean Voyage Tea
A warm and enticing TWG blend of cocoa beans, green almonds and a full-bodied red tea from South Africa.”
Red Chocolate Tea
“Who says chocolate only comes in brown or white? This TWG South Africa red tea is masterfully blended with sumptuous cocoa beans.”
Red of Africa Tea
“Delicate red tea from South Africa blended with sweet TWG Tea spices and marigold. This theine-free tea can be served warm or iced, at any time of the day, and is ideal for children, too.”
Eternal Summer Tea
“A fragrant South Africa red tea embellished with notes of sweet summer rose blossoms accented with raw berries which finish with a lingering aftertaste reminiscent of ripe Tuscan peaches. A theine-free tea to be enjoyed hot or iced at any time of the day.”
Top 4 caffeine-free teas
“TWG Tea also creates theine-free (or decaffeinated) blends of green tea and black tea with the most wonderful ingredients. These blends are perfect for adults and children alike and make great iced teas.”
1. Midnight Hour Tea
“As the clock strikes midnight, this tea unfurls a magical infusion of decaffeinated black tea delicately blended with fragrant tropical fruits. A tea to transform and renew.”
2. Sweet Romance Tea
“A flight of fancy, this sweet blend of decaffeinated black tea and red berries is accented with notes of raw vanilla bean. A blend to share with your loved one.”
3. Scarlet Hour Tea
“A blend as majestic as an evening sunset, this vibrant blend of decaffeinated black tea boasts notes of sweet mango and passion fruit. A bold blend to savor long into the night.”
4. Jade Cascade Tea
“This glistening waterfall of decaffeinated green teas blends perfectly with a mélange of tropical fruits, yielding a light and luminous blend to be savored alone or with afternoon tea cakes.”
And just when you thought you’ve completed your lesson in Fine Tea 101, you will be amazed at the product line ranging from elegant tea tins, a myriad of hand-blown glass, porcelain, stoneware and cast iron teapots, fine bone china teacups, etc. I am told their candles are exquisite and pleasantly potent.
There is actually a featured collection for every season like the Noel! Noel! Tea Set for Christmas or the Sahara Tea Set in celebration of the Year of the Snake.
I particularly love the Sahara Snake Silver teapot and cups. It is a legendary symbol of knowledge and immortality. The serpent is a potent guardian of good fortune, health and vigor. The 18-carat gold Sahara teapot boasts of green Swarovski crystal eyes. And matched with the Miraculous Mandarin Tea, we may all live forever!
The marriage between TWG Singapore and Stores Specialists Inc. has produced branches in Greenbelt 5, Resorts World Manila and Rockwell Power Plant. By the end of May, the Shangri-La branch is scheduled to open.