What do well­ness-fo­cused con­sumers want in their cuppa? Xie Huiqun dis­cov­ers rare moun­tain teas and brews made from ca­cao beans and pep­per vines that will rejuvenate even the most jaded palates.

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Rare teas and brews to rejuvenate jaded palates.

Up in the misty moun­tain­ous re­gions of China, deep in the nat­u­ral forests, lo­cated at high al­ti­tudes of 1,000 me­ters or more above sea level, is where one will find some of the best and most ex­clu­sive wild tea plants. These pre­cious plants are ex­posed to abun­dant sun­light, a suf­fi­cient amount of rain, and ex­treme tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ences be­tween day and night, which are deemed favourable, shares An­nie Sun, group chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Dy­naforce In­ter­na­tional. Sun is also the founder of Hui Rui Tang – a nascent and be­spoke tea bou­tique spe­cial­is­ing in health en­hanc­ing teas from the wild forests and moun­tains of China.

“Un­like plan­ta­tion tea, wild tea does not de­pend on chem­i­cals, pes­ti­cides or fer­tilis­ers. They are deep-rooted plants and have the ca­pa­bil­ity of ab­sorb­ing more nu­tri­ents from the fer­tile for­est soil, liv­ing in sym­bi­otic har­mony with ad­ja­cent wild plants, many of which have medic­i­nal value. This di­verse for­est en­vi­ron­ment pro­duces more com­plex aro­mas and flavours in wild tea,” says Sun.

One such re­gion is the An­hua

County in cen­tral China where the world fa­mous Dark Tea (a class of tea that has un­der­gone mi­cro­bial fer­men­ta­tion, from sev­eral months to many years) reigns.

The fer­men­ta­tion of tea leaves al­ters their chem­istry, af­fect­ing the smell of the tea and typ­i­cally mel­low­ing its taste, re­duc­ing as­trin­gency and bit­ter­ness while im­prov­ing mouth feel and af­ter­taste. Be­sides aid­ing di­ges­tion and re­liev­ing fa­tigue, wild

An­hui Dark Tea also con­tains vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and amino acids that con­trib­ute to im­prov­ing over­all well­ness. Un­like green tea, which may lose its flavour within a year, fer­mented dark tea can re­tain its flavour for many years. This is the rea­son why fer­mented dark tea has long been used as a “cur­rency” for barter trade in the Silk Route in the 19th cen­tury.

A sip of this prized An­hui Dark Tea will re­veal a mar­vel­lously mel­low and mildly smokey flavour that lingers on the palate. A sec­ond or third cup and the ex­quis­ite nu­ances un­furl, and you may ex­pe­ri­ence a gen­tle warmth spread­ing through your body as the good­ness of wild tea works its magic to soothe your soul.

A Gift from Mother Na­ture

“High al­ti­tude teas are typ­i­cally more rich, smooth and fra­grant, and you can brew them many more times be­fore they lose their flavour, but they grow freely among all kinds of other veg­e­ta­tion and are also usu­ally dif­fi­cult to reach,” says Sun, who honed her ap­pre­ci­a­tion of tea from her mother, a tea con­nois­seur. Sun tells us that wild tea farm­ers of­ten need to hire tea pick­ers, who are paid by the weight of the tea picked each day. They have to go up into the moun­tains and deep into the forests to pick the tea each morn­ing and re­turn to the col­lec­tion cen­tre in the late af­ter­noon.

“It is hard and, at times, dan­ger­ous work, so even with higher wages, the younger gen­er­a­tions are not in­ter­ested to take it on. This leaves the older pick­ers (mainly in their 60s to 80s) to do this work. How­ever, even with the high labour costs and lim­ited sup­ply, the wild teas pro­duced and picked from the high-al­ti­tude lo­ca­tions are worth the added ex­pense for the en­joy­ment and health of the tea con­nois­seur,” Sun adds.

Sun, who is cur­rently in the well­ness busi­ness, feels that phys­i­cal well­ness is not just con­fined to proper ex­er­cise, re­lax­ation and sleep. One also needs proper nu­tri­tion, she ex­presses. She has em­barked on this tea jour­ney and busi­ness to cre­ate her own brand of wild tea (a re­tail out­let is also in the works) tar­geted ini­tially at the spa in­dus­try and also tea lovers in gen­eral (with pri­vate tea ses­sions and events).

At present, there is still a lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the ben­e­fits of drink­ing high qual­ity Chi­nese tea, es­pe­cially wild tea. As such, Sun would like to work on “ed­u­cat­ing the mar­ket on the health ben­e­fits and the fine art of en­joy­ing qual­ity Chi­nese tea”. All her teas, which in­clude a va­ri­ety of red tea, cliff tea and more, will be from the wild, sourced from all over China, and sup­ply will be sea­sonal and lim­ited.

For more in­for­ma­tion on pri­vate tast­ing ses­sions, con­tact: Email: an­[email protected]­nafor­ Tel: 6842 3166

“It is hard and, at times, dan­ger­ous work, so even with higher wages, the younger gen­er­a­tions are not in­ter­ested to take it on. This leaves the older pick­ers (mainly in their 60s to 80s) to do this work. How­ever, even with the high labour costs and lim­ited sup­ply, the wild teas pro­duced and picked from the high-al­ti­tude lo­ca­tions are worth the added ex­pense for the en­joy­ment and health of the tea con­nois­seur.”

The Sweet Spot

Un­til some 200 years ago, ca­cao was con­sumed as a drink, says Jerome Pe­nafort, direc­tor of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for

Benns Choco­late.

“When you are feel­ing stressed or sad, you feel good after eat­ing choco­late as there are com­pounds in there that boost your lev­els of en­dor­phins and­sero­tonin. The same com­pounds are in our tea; it is a “feel-good” tea that can help you re­lax,” Pe­nafort ex­plains.

For Benns Choco­late, ca­cao tea (not to be con­fused with co­coa) is still a rel­a­tively new prod­uct; it was soft-launched at Food &

Ho­tel Asia in April 2018. Their ca­cao tea is made of raw ca­cao nibs and husk — ca­cao nibs are the in­ner fruit of the ca­cao bean, the key raw in­gre­di­ent used to make choco­late. When you brew it, you will see that it is slightly oily, but that is all nat­u­ral. The ca­cao tea has a sweet per­fume and a pleas­ant, mild taste of choco­late without the sugar.

“Draw­ing from this his­tory, we wanted to cre­ate some­thing that could re­tain all the su­per­food nu­tri­ents and still tastes as much as choco­late as pos­si­ble. Of course, it is not as choco­latey as co­coa, but it is all nat­u­ral and sug­ar­free,” says Pe­nafort.

The com­pany started out as a spe­cial­ist in man­u­fac­tur­ing qual­ity choco­lates with a fo­cus on travel re­tail and lo­cal con­sumers. Along the way, they learned about the hard­ships faced by Asian farm­ers and also about a more nat­u­ral and sus­tain­able way to make choco­late, which sparked a new di­rec­tion for the com­pany.

“A big part of our com­pany’s phi­los­o­phy now is ed­u­ca­tion: telling the un­told story of choco­late. As such, we are look­ing at small batch pro­duc­tion from each sin­gle ori­gin plan­ta­tion. Our gen­eral man­ager, Wil­fred Ng, does most of the trav­el­ling out to re­mote farms in the re­gion to source for ca­cao,” he shares.

As of to­day, they have part­nered with farm­ers in Sun­gai Ruan (Malaysia), Vung Tau (Viet­nam), Anaimalai Hills (In­dia), Cali­nan (Philip­pines) and Lam­pang (Thai­land), and they buy the ca­cao beans di­rectly. Their sin­gle es­tate choco­lates and ca­cao tea are all 100 per­cent nat­u­ral, ve­gan, ha­lal, gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free. Pe­nafort ex­plains that go­ing di­rect is more sus­tain­able for farm­ers as they are able pay the farm­ers up to three times higher than mar­ket price by leav­ing the mid­dle men out of the equa­tion.

Pur­su­ing their in­tent to study the an­tiox­i­dant lev­els and health ben­e­fits of their ca­cao tea, Benns Choco­late has col­lab­o­rated with UCSI Univer­sity in Malaysia, and re­search has shown that both the Vung Tau (Viet­nam) and Sun­gai Ruan (Malaysia) ori­gin ca­cao teas have higher an­tiox­i­dant lev­els than most reg­u­lar teas, cof­fees and fruits. The Vung Tau Ca­cao Tea from Viet­nam, for ex­am­ple, has close to three times the amount of an­tiox­i­dants as ap­ples and about 60 per­cent more an­tiox­i­dants than straw­ber­ries.

“When blend­ing the ca­cao tea, we are mind­ful of three things: flavour, an­tiox­i­dant level, and aroma. The husk adds a lot of flavours to the tea, and has malt prop­er­ties that give the tea a nice body and aroma, while the nibs give us the an­tiox­i­dants. It took us some time to find the bal­ance, com­ing up with the right ra­tio of husk to nibs and to achieve the max­i­mum an­tiox­i­dant count,” says Pe­nafort. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.bennschoco­ The ca­cao tea is also avail­able at Cedele out­lets, Nai­ise, Tea­pasar, City of To­mor­row, and Bearded Bella.

Hong Spices farm at Sun­rise. Pep­per­corns vines shaded with co­conut leafs on the left. Mango or­chards on the right.

Ca­cao pods grow­ing well in a farm in Cali­nan, Davao, Philip­pines

An­nie Sun, group chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Dy­naforce In­ter­na­tional and founder of Hui Rui Tang

Jerome Pe­nafort, direc­tor of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for Benns Choco­late

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