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Fong Chi Chung On The Takeaways of a Good Brew

One tea connoisseur on the takeaways of a good brew. By Meryl Koh.

With eight restaurants in Singapore and another opening in Hong Kong this month, one may expect Fong Chi Chung to be hard-pressed for time.

Not only does he oversee the management and food quality at all Putien outlets – they serve Heng Hwa cuisine from China’s Fujian province – he travels frequently to Hong Kong to supervise the construction of his first international outlet since the chain was founded in 2000.

Yet Fong, 46, exudes calm when we meet at his office in Singapore. Gently washing Tieguanyin leaves (also known as Iron Buddha) using the lid of a teacup, he unhurriedly pushes away the bubbles that form.

As he systematically fills the cups, he shares how he personally makes tea for colleagues during meetings.

“It keeps my hands busy while I think,” Fong says. “Doing this is important, as I want my colleagues to see me as their equal, and not their superior. I hope this encourages them to share their thoughts freely and, thus, foster closer ties.”

Recalling his childhood, he remembers his elders sipping tea in the morning. He adopted the same ritual and has since refined it by poring over books on tea appreciation in his free time.

To bring out the nuances of tea, Fong shares: “It is best to brew it with spring or distilled water at the right temperature for the correct length of time.” Tieguanyin, for example, is made with boiling water, while Longjing, a type of pan-roasted green tea, should be steeped in water at 80 deg C.”

Fong’s passion for the beverage has been subtly incorporated into his business. For example, an introduction of tea specially selected by him is on the first page of his restaurant menu. Since Heng Hwa cuisine is not rich like French food, drinks with clean notes like tea are most complementary.

Tieguanyin and Dahongpao (a type of oolong with a slight floral flavour) are his choices for the house brew, and he recommends having the former with the eatery’s stir-fried yam. “Yam is a bit dry but sweet, which pairs well with Tieguanyin’s refreshing taste.”

Fong also sees the tea-making process as a time for deep thought and reflection. “I do my best thinking during this time,” he says.

“Going through the motions of making tea helps me get my thoughts in order.”