It was a game his grandfather, Pek Kim Aw, played: Name a tea correctly after tasting it and be rewarded with money for ice cream. The nuanced colours and flavours of every brew, mixed with the aroma of tea leaves being roasted, left an indelible imprint on Kenry Peh – and the training paid off when he formally took over the family business in 1999.
At 90 years old, Chinese tea specialist Pek Sin Choon still thrives, supplying tea to businesses ranging from distinguished hotels and upscale restaurants to nearly every bak kut teh eatery. There is no secret to its success, other than its ability to build and maintain relationships – for which 45-year-old Peh is primarily responsible. For decades, the family has partnered four to five tea growers in Fujian and Yunnan. And to the people who cultivate some 90 per cent of the company’s import, Peh does more than pay social calls – he even lends a hand during tea harvest. “At my first tea harvest, I picked tea leaves until all my fingers bled,” he reminisces.
Back home, his daily routine includes tea cuppings (or tastings) – sometimes several times a day – to evaluate the quality of his teas. To protect the sensitivity of his palate, he does not smoke, rarely drinks, and avoids excessively spicy food.
At the shop in Mosque Street, elderly women still pack tea by hand – something Peh insists on, despite the costs. “Staff wages are $30,000, while machinery costs just $10,000. But we are doing this to preserve a tradition for the next generation.” Indeed, in an industry seemingly guided by trend and fleeting fashion, Pek Sin Choon stands out by upholding tradition.
36 Mosque Street.