To the uninitiated – and even the experienced – tea can be an intimidating world to navigate. A lack of regulatory standards and a market fraught with mislabelling have meant that it’s often hard to know whether you’re getting the good stuff – especially if one lacks a good grasp of Mandarin.
At Singapore-based speciality tea brand Fort Sanctuary, things are done a little differently. Wanting to “present something different from other players already in the local market”, founder Lau Kiat Boon has created a contemporary experience with something for both tea neophytes and connoisseurs.
Walking into its boutique in Esplanade Mall, with its clean, minimalist decor and nondescript boxes of tea, one might mistake it for a high-end spa. A far cry from any other Chinese teahouse, Fort Sanctuary, which even serves iced tea, is deadly serious about its products.
It deals solely in rock-essence or rock teas grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian, China, an area famous for some of the most prized teas in the world, including the legendary Da Hong Pao. However, there are no such labels to be found at Fort Sanctuary. Traditional tea-naming conventions – which can sometimes be misleading – have been stripped away in favour of a system with a number indicating a particular variant, followed by an alphabet representing a particular sequence of firing and resting.
It might sound complex, but it’s for a good reason. Fort Sanctuary works directly with farmers in Wuyi and has tea masters in China constantly focusing on multiple recipes for processing tea leaves, with only the best reaching the shelves. “The numbers are so that when a particular tea stands out, the tea master can recognise it as one they have worked on,” shares Lau.
Once the tea arrives in Singapore, it undergoes the final steps of firing and resting that Lau describes as the kingmaker. Of course, while the techniques are proprietary, each tea variant undergoes unique procedures to amplify desirable characteristics – from bringing out certain lactic, creamy flavours to improving the texture of the brew.
For example, 745, one of Fort Sanctuary’s most exclusive teas, is crafted using something they call procedure O, which highlights the distinctive mineral and algae-like expression of Wuyi terroir.
If it all seems a little overwhelming on paper, Fort Sanctuary has a comprehensive tasting experience highlighting its methods. In this case, the proof is really in the pudding.