If you’re an oolong lover in Singapore, you must know about Antea Social – the local brand with unique, high quality oolongs. Last week, the teapasar team caught up with its charming founder, Jolene, to talk about her business and love of oolong tea.
Can you tell us the story of Antea Social? How did you end up starting a tea business?
Jolene: I’ve always liked to drink tea, and wanted to explore more about the different types of tea. While I was thinking about how to do this through a tea company, I went on holiday to Taiwan and met a tea master. He makes the most amazing teas and became my mentor of sorts. Together, we created the 8 teas that I showcased at the Singapore Tea Festival!
Thanks to him, I managed to visit many farms in Taiwan and learn about how tea is grown, harvested, and processed. Most of the time, these farms are closed to outsiders, so without his introduction and help, I wouldn’t have been able to get in.
That’s amazing! Were you scared when you started the business?
No, not at all. I felt that I had an affinity with the tea master, and everything just fell into place at the right time. Like I mentioned earlier, I was already thinking about starting a tea business when I first went to Taiwan. I knew that I didn’t want to just resell tea – I wanted, and still want, everyone who comes to my brand to learn more about tea, even if they don’t buy anything. So when I was presented with this opportunity to work with a tea master and get unique teas direct from source, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
Is this tea master the reason why you focused on oolongs? It’s a pretty unique choice for the specialty tea market here.
Partly! It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, but I didn’t know that oolongs were a category of tea when I started drinking tea! A lot of oolongs in Chinese restaurants taste the same, so I thought they were a type of tea, like Earl Grey. But when I started learning more about it, I realised that oolongs have a lot of breadth and depth – you can have a lightly oxidised oolong that tastes like green tea, and a heavily oxidised one that’s close to black tea, and they’re both the same category of tea! The variety of flavours within oolongs is amazing.
And like you mentioned, the tea master and Taiwan played a part in developing my love for this subset of tea. Taiwan produces some of the best oolongs in the world, and I had the chance to try so many amazing varieties when I was there.
The varieties in oolong are definitely much greater than other categories of tea. But your oolongs are very unique – I’ve never heard of peach or vanilla oolong until I tried your teas! How did you come up with your blends?
Well, I worked very closely with the tea master to develop blends that we think Singaporeans will love. We did reference popular flavours in Taiwan, but what’s popular there doesn’t always translate well. For example, Taiwanese love the spiciness from ginger, but it’s not quite suited to our hot weather. Other flavours, like peach, translate much better – I suppose everyone loves the mingling of fruits and tea!
What I do is that I’ll taste all the teas available and if I think our customers will like it, I’ll bring it in and let my customers decide.
What’s the story behind the name ‘Antea Social’? It’s very punny, what led you to come up with it?
I thought very hard about that name! I wanted something that was simple, easy to spell, but also memorable. Oh, and it had to include the word ‘tea’, obviously. I did think of using the words ‘tea company’ in the name, but it seemed a little generic, so I started coming up with tea puns. When I came up with ‘Antea Social’, I knew that it was the name for me, especially since my brand is all about conversations and getting people talking.
Also, if you look at my logo, there’s an ampersand (&) mark just before the name. It’s there to signal that my brand is about tea and conversation, not just tea alone.
Tea and conversation… what are the conversations that have stayed with you?
I find that tea is a very communal beverage, since you can brew it in a pot and share it with everyone around the table. In fact, my family likes to brew a pot of tea after dinner and just sit around the table to chat. I feel that this ritual of drinking tea together has really helped us to bond as a family.
This was also the case in Taiwan. Wherever I went, I would be invited to the table and offered a cup of tea, which I feel really helps break the ice. I love this sort of hospitality and the friendships it can spark; you don’t need any fancy machines to get people talking!
What is your (non-fancy) secret to a good cup of tea?
Well, I think it helps to follow the technical reommendations – you know, use freshly boiled water, make sure it’s the right temperature, don’t over-steep or under-steep etc. But most importantly, the person making the tea is the one that has the biggest impact. If you’re making tea for yourself, take the time to be present and in the moment. If you’re making this for others, like your family or friends, make it with love. I know it sounds cliché, but if you want people to have a good cup of tea, make it to the best of your ability and they will enjoy it.
Lychee Oolong (from $10 for a 10g pouch). One of the eight teas created with the Taiwanese master, this oolong expertly infuses the taste of sweet lychee and tea. Both flavours work together in harmony to create a new depth of flavour. Also a hot favourite during Singapore Tea Festival, with this blend going to over a hundred excited customers!
If you’re interested in the other seven oolongs from the Taiwanese master mentioned in this interview, check out Antea Social’s Peach Oolong, Dong Ding Oolong, Rose Oolong, Mango Oolong, Vanilla Oolong, Strawberry Oolong and Mint Oolong.
As part of this brand spotlight, Antea Social is offering 10% off storewide! Simply use the code “YOUMEANTEA” during checkout to enjoy this offer. Valid until 23:59, 21st October 2018.