Sitting with Gryphon Tea founder Lim Tian Wee, is like having a crash course on teas and palate description. Though soft-spoken, Tian Wee displayed a myriad of knowledge when describing the origin of tea blends with vocabulary of tastes which tea evokes. An afternoon launch of the latest Artisan tea collection surrounded by lush garden setting brings back a long lost wanderlust, as tea blends are inspired by his overseas travels.
Gryphon Tea Company is a home grown brand since 2006, with distribution in France, Kuwait, Japan, Philippines and Mongolia, just to name a few. Tian Wee brings his personal preference of fruity and herb tones into the tea blends suitable for the modern palate. Describing himself as a 4th generation tea maker, Tian Wee moves towards western centric blends while his brother runs the Chinese side of the tea business, with equally nostalgic and exotic branding.
With over 400 outlets carrying Gryphon Tea and counting, Tian Wee constantly makes changes to packaging and introduce new colours and ideas to this wonderful beverage most of us associate as an alternative to coffee. Taking account of the influence of Mixology lately in the local F&B scene, the mocktail concoctions using Gryphon tea range are surprisingly light, refreshing, using the cold brew method instead of the conventional hot water seepage, as the former method of extraction balances the sweetness of other cocktail ingredients such as Grenadine used in the Red Lotus mocktail.
Choosing Halia restaurant at the Botanic Gardens is a reflection of the long term partnership with Gryphon Tea. With the restaurant’s signature use of herbs and edible flowers, it highlights how tea tastings and pairing can be very personal. If the food pairing is complex, then a sip of simple black tea will cleanse the palate instantly. For a decadently sweet dessert of raspberries, a sip of hot tea will balance the edulcorant slow courtship of flavours falling in love with each other in the mouth.
The Artisan Selection Gryphon Tea Lily of the Field has a lighter bodied floral note with Four Seasons Oolong and eucalyptus added for the light balance. Tasting the cold tea first before pairing it with the food served is essential as the pairing needs to be complimentary, especially with the delicate Smoked Trout Parfait. The cold brew method is to seep the tea bag in room temperature overnight as it removes the bitter tannins, or catechin that comes with otherwise hot water contact. Which Tian Wee explains patiently why tea masters instructs to prepare Green tea at 60 degree Celsius water temperature. While it also downplays the sourish Jasmine notes, the gentler fruitiness of the hot brew character pairing with Paprika Finger Sandwich lifts up the fiery sensation.
Oolong tea has a more complex character compared to Green tea which has more chlorophyll and therefore affects its profile notes. As tea makers try different profiles they discovered Oolong which falls in between Green tea and Black tea spectrum. Bearing in mind that Green tea oxidised into Oolong tea, some tea makers practices partial oxidisation, whereas other growers lets it oxidise fully. Thus Four Seasons Oolong is lighter in taste and floral in nature.
Compared to the more robust Mountain Oolong used for another Artisan Selection Gryphon Tea Temple Lotus, which the name envisions a visit to the flower market selling Jasmines and Lotus flowers. Possessing less earthy notes and more fruity nuances due to Green mango blended in without the sharpness makes an overall softer note.
Eliteror.com caught up with Mr Lim Tian Wee via email after the tea launch to satisfy the curiosity of how someone thinks in terms of tea all the time.
1) Did you learn to think in terms of smells, or did it just come naturally ?
The art of tea tasting comes from years of accumulated drinking experience. Similar to cooking, tea tasting is an art form and the database of taste and scent will build up as you began to taste teas widely.
Different regions have its own unique characteristics and sensory profiling helps tea taster discern its attributes and able to distillate the sensorial experience.
2) Does sensory perception play a part in your daily eating and drinking ?
Yes very much. I learnt alot on taste indulging in my favorite past time, food experimentation. I don’t call it cooking since I don’t think I’m quite a proficient cook in the kitchen. However, I do enjoy the pairing and combining of food flavours.
3) How do you explain light pairings, profile and character of tea notes to novice tea drinkers ?
Tea Pairing is an art and is subjective, and every tongue is different.
Taste is individual and to have a successful pairings, one must began to explore the interplay of food and tea. Learn to discover the flavours of tea before venturing into pairing. I would start with teas that you enjoy and discover the food that will go well with it.
A pairing matches when the aroma and taste of tea matches or accentuates the flavours of food; thus achieving a harmonious taste.
4) Will your tastebuds change over time ?
Our taste buds goes through a renewal process every 2 weeks. Unfortunately, this cycle of renewal becomes less active when we hit middle age. We lose a significant amount of taste buds when we reach 50 years old. The taste buds continue to die, shed and lesser numbers are grown. As there are fewer taste buds in our mouths, flavours begin to taste blander.
5) How does Gryphon keep up with kindred spirit of tea drinkers ?
We love to experiment with new ingredients and aromas. In my travels, I love to visit markets and local farmers market to discover new herbs and flavours. It a fun way for me to see the cultures of each market Gryphon Tea is present and we usually look at new product development that would serve well in the market we operate.
6) How does Gryphon keep abreast of current culinary trends ?
Being a purveyor of fine teas to the food service industry and working closely with chefs keep us abreast of the latest food trends. We are fortunate to be based in South East Asia where it is the hot bed for new taste trends.
Gryphon Tea Company lists some of the top hotels and restaurants in Singapore as their long time customers. Hotel partners include Capella Singapore, Fullerton Bay Hotel and Grand Park Orchard. Premium dining partners include Sky on 57, Lawry’s the Prime Rib, Yantra, Ippudo SG, Table 66, COVA Pasticceria – Confetteria, Marmalade Pantry, Pierside, Fruit Paradise, Hacienda Café, OSO Ristorante, La Plantane Shanghai, La Petite Taipei, Saint Pierre Group, Brown Sugar, Halia Restaurant, Suburbia, Wild Rocket, Relish. Other café customers include Coffee Club, Spinelli Coffee Company, TCC (The Connoisseur Concerto), Dome Café, PS Café, Tully’s Coffee, Trung Nguyen Café and Big ‘O’. The Artisan Selection is available in Singapore retail stores – Fairprice Finest Supermarket, Isetan Supermarket, selected Cold Storages, Market Place, ThreeWSixty Market!Place, Jason’s Market Place, Culina Fine Food Stores, Four Seasons Gourmet Market, The American Club, 2 a.m.: dessertbar, Novus Café, Shermay’s Cooking School. Gryphon Tea is available in Singapore through the appointed distributor Euraco Finefood Pte Ltd and in Malaysia through Coffex Coffee Sdn Bhd.