Snapshots from Singapore: Afternoon Tea at Tea Chapter
After the fourth noodle dish before 3 p.m., I needed some respite. Eating in Singapore carries the constant risk of too much of a good thing, and though I fell for kopi hard, hitting this kind of brick wall demanded something more pure.
The trip to Tea Chapter was just what I needed.
Tea Chapter is a combination tea shop and house specializing in premium Chinese and Taiwanese teas. Though it's definitely where you go for "fancy tea," the experience is hardly stuffy or expensive. A basic tea service will run you all of $7 SGD per person, which can be supplemented with pricier teas and small bites. While it's not quite the customers' robbery as the three-hour, $12 tea tasting at Fang Gourmet in NYC, you can do some serious exploration of high-end tea here without laying down serious coin.
The first floor is a showroom dedicated to delicate gaiwans, intricate yixing clay pots, and cakes of aged tea. Above are three floors of tea rooms, each in its own style: a British level with marble-topped tables divided by curtains, a squared off room with tables sunken into the floor (like what you may have seen at sushi parlors), and an open expanse of hardwood meant for informal tea-taking at low tables.
That means you can find just the right kind of afternoon tea for you, as formal or casual as you want, either with the company of a staffer to brew and serve tea in a structured appreciation ceremony, or just on your own. But the sense of timeless calm remains the same, a midday ritual to set you right against Singapore's mad urbanism and gastric onslaught.
Pricier teas, such as the parlor's finer roasted oolongs, do cost more for the tasting, but are still affordably priced, and well worth it besides. It's often a challenge to get premium samples of Chinese teas for home brewing in small amounts from people who speak English. Trying them out in tea houses like this are the best way to see if the investment is really worth it to you. One particular recommendation: the imperial golden cassia oolong, a lightly oxidized tea with an especially sweet delicate character, reminiscent of osmanthus but more subtle.
The tea appreciation ceremony performed here is really about kicking the tea's tires and taking it for a test drive, not a formalized ritual for its own sake. It's a relaxing experience, sure, but designed to heighten your awareness of what you're drinking by dulling all distractions to silence.
Tea is passed from brewing vessel to decanter to tasting cup—but first, the aroma cup, designed for sniffing the first steeping for a taste of what's to come. The actual brew is discarded while a more flavorful one sits in the pot. Each tea is brewed about five times, showing off the range of the leaves and the evolution of their flavor, aroma, and texture over time.
If you're looking to buy whole leaves, know that prices vary. Herbal and more common teas start at $15 SGD or so per 50 grams; higher end whites, greens, oolongs, and blacks (called "red" in Asia) start at $20 and climb from there.
Don't miss out on Tea Chapter's homemade sweets to go with your tasting. Light buttery cookies, refreshing agar jellies, and hardcooked eggs are all made with tea, and not just the usual matcha sort: think jellies made with pu-ehr and evaporated milk, or black tea with lychee. The house tea eggs send licks of anise and cassia up the nose, with delicate yolks that cradle the flavor of a rich pu ehr. All the sweets are more refreshing than filling, the kind of delicate bites that settle your stomach, not overwhelm it.
I think every eater needs a place like this, a quiet, soothing temple to wash away one's edible sins, a place where appreciating something new and fascinating takes as little effort as a cup of tea. Tea Chapter keeps its door open for tea experts and novitiates alike, and it's one of the better tea houses I've visited to let your budding tea addiction run rampant.
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