In Search of creativi-tea
Entrepreneur Allen Wong is on a mission to revolutionise tea culture. He tells Marianna Cerini how and why—over a fresh brew, of course
s we sit down for high tea at Seasons by Olivier E to talk about Or Tea, Allen Wong’s premium tea venture, the entrepreneur takes out a set of tea bags for me to try. Packaged in brightly coloured wraps featuring a stylised heroine in an array of fairytale-esque scenarios and punny names like La Vie En Rose (rose tea), Tiffany’s Breakfast (good old breakfast tea) and Beeee Calm (chamomile tea), the sachets— stitched, biodegradable and made from unbleached cornstarch—contain unusual combinations of ingredients, most of which are organic and have been sourced from around the world. There’s lemongrass with ginger, green tea and ginseng, and black tea with liquorice roots and roasted coffee beans. Wong began creating these speciality blends in 2010 and launched them on the market three years ago. His goal? To give the classic drink a hip, glossy makeover. You have a background in hospitality and advertising and used to run your own ad firm. What spurred you to start a tea company? At first it was the wish to export Chinese tea and culture to Europe. Or Tea debuted there first and was only recently launched in Hong Kong. The West has a vague knowledge of our blends and brews, but most of the Chinese teas you find in France or England aren’t actually Chinese brands. That was a clear gap to me. I founded Or Tea with the aim of offering authentic Chinese tea presented in a Western way. Now it’s more than that, though. Our selection extends to breakfast teas, infusions, Southeast Asia-inspired brews. It’s about reinventing a tradition, if you want, and giving it a luxury, very contemporary feel.
Are you a coffee drinker? Of course. I love coffee, but tea is what I grew up with. It’s so integral to anyone born in Hong Kong. People drink it with yum cha, during a game of mahjong, or in any social circumstance, really. It’s more fun than coffee. You can play with different ingredients, too. Or Tea has some 20 blends at the moment.
Who designs the sachets? My team and I. I’ve always been quite creative, and coming up with clever, eye-popping designs for the various different brews was quite an important factor for me. Again, creating cool imagery was part of a concerted effort to give tea a thorough makeover. Each packet tells a different story, with the same young girl as the protagonist. In the future, though, I would like to have Hong Kong artists design some of our packaging. I’d love to collaborate with local talents—as long as the brand maintains a true Hong Kong identity.
Where do you source your ingredients? The right question would be where don’t we source them from. Quality is pivotal to what we’re doing, so I put a lot of effort into finding the right materials.
You’re product is available in Harvey Nichols, Le Bon Marché and Printemps in Europe, and the Mandarin Oriental here. What’s your ambition for the brand? For it to become something intrinsically related to Hong Kong. I’d like for people to mention Or Tea and think of Hong Kong and vice versa. And, of course, to make tea an aspirational drink. When you hold a can of Coke, regardless of whether you like it, there’s an emotional connection. I’d like Or Tea to trigger that same effect.