By Miral Fahmy
SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Fancy a cuppa? At Singapore's only luxury tea boutique and salon you'll be spoiled for choice, with 600 fragrant blends ranging from classic breakfast pick-me-ups to rare yellow varieties.
Step into The TWG Tea's salon in a modern downtown shopping centre and you'll be whisked away to a Paris tea room, complete with crystal chandeliers, wood panels and gilded mirrors.
But that's where the European, colonial similarities end.
Chairman Manoj Murjani says Singapore-based TWG Tea is a homegrown, Asian firm keen to bring the region that produces most of the world's tea a luxurious version of its ubiquitous brew.
"The leading nations that produce tea are in Asia yet you do not have a luxury tea brand from the region," Murjani, a former brand-building executive who helped shape U.S. designer label Tommy Hilfiger, told Reuters.
"TWG Tea is this Asian brand for Asia and the world."
With ranks of newly rich emerging in major economies India and China, and with more wealthy people in Singapore keen to spend on luxury goods, TWG says its a good time to be in Asia.
Everything in the salon, from the artisan-created teapots and cups to the vast array of loose teas and the tea-infused pastries and dishes, is specially created for TWG Tea.
The company has exclusive arrangements with select tea plantations across the globe, and its staff use all-natural ingredients such as spices, flowers and fruits to create blends.
"We felt that it was time for tea to evolve with the times, to become not only a drink that is enjoyed by our grandfathers, but a fashionable, chic, upmarket beverage for the young too," said the firm's president Taha Bouqdib.
"We also want TWG Tea to be a school of tea for the world, a one-stop-shop where you can know everything there is to know about tea," he added.
TEA OR WINE?
Much like sommeliers, TWG Tea's staff will pull out metal canisters of tea blends with names like "Camelot", "Miraculous Mandarin" and "Amour de The" -- scented with roses and enriched with flecks or real gold -- for customers to smell.
They also describe the bouquet and special teapots ensure the brew is the same temperature and strength until the last drop.
Unflavored black teas such as Darjeeling and Ceylon are also available, as are green, white and the rare yellow tea, which is derived through a secret roasting process of leaves picked only once a year from gardens in two provinces in China.
"A kilo of yellow tea retails for between $800 to $3,000," Bouqdib said. "It's our most expensive offering."
The salon also offers a menu of tea-infused foods including macaroons, scones with tea jam, tea soups, salads with tea-based dressings as well as salmon quiches and foie gras terrines.
The shop sells gift packs of some of tea blends such as "Happy Birthday" and "Lucky Me" and "Lucky You", which were created to celebrate the Lunar New Year, a major festival among Chinese communities in Asia.
Apart from Asia, the firm plans to open branches in Dubai, the booming Gulf trading hub, and eventually expand to the United States and Europe.
Maranda Barnes, TWG Tea's director, is keen to point out that, while the salon offers a luxury experience, it is not elitist and most products do not come with a hefty price tag.
"We're a luxury brand that aims to reach everyone so that everyone can be part of the celebration," she said. "Luxury is not always about cost, but it's about quality."
(Editing by Alex Richardson)