First publication: MastersTalk, pilot issue.
Cheryl Teo (Melbourne, Australia). Telecommunications engineer, tea enthusiast and educator. The founder of Flag & Spear, a small business specializing in tea consultancy and education. Certified Tea Sommelier (Certified Tea Master Course with Australian Tea Masters), winner of the 2017 Tea Masters Cup Australia & New Zealand in Tea Preparation category.
One of the most interesting things in modern tea culture is cross-cultural projects. Therefore, the appearance of Cheryl among MastersTalk guests is completely natural. Now you will learn why.
Cheryl, what are your functions, duties, responsibilities at your job? or what skills and knowledges are required for your job?
My engineering job is complicated to explain, so I usually just tell people that I “build cool stuff”.
With regards to my tea business, I am a sole trader so my responsibilities are broad. These include accounting, marketing, securing new clients, event management and writing course materials. My focus is in tea and food/beverage pairing, so I often work with chefs or food/beverage specialists to create pairings and design events. The key skills required are a keen attention to detail, meticulous note taking and a love of learning and experimenting! Regular cupping to keep my palate “in shape” is also a must.
Why tea? Was there any turning point in your life when you decided to start a tea career?
This is a difficult question to answer because I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love tea. I started collecting tea sets as a child, visited Yunnan as a teenager, and began investing in a library of tea books. My ‘career’ in tea started when I ran a series of tea appreciation classes to raise funds for a local charity and the opportunities only grew from there.
What were you doing this past year after your participation in Tea Masters Cup? any interesting tea-related activities you were involved into?
This past year has been a year of whisky and tea! I have been collaborating with a local whisky distillery on a number of projects. The two key project have been creating a whisky barrel-aged tea, and running a series of tea and whisky pairing master classes.
And more particularly, we’d like to ask you about your participation in the Old Barrel Tea project. Could you tell us a few words about the project itself and your part in it?
Old Barrel Tea Co. is a collaboration between myself and two very good tea friends Kym Cooper (The Steepery) and Tania Stacey (Cuppa Cha). We aged an award winning Jin Xuan Oolong from Alishan, Taiwan in an ex-apera cask from Melbourne’s Starward Whisky Distillery. The project was born out of curiosity and experimentation. My key roles in the collaboration was securing the partnership with the distillery and facilitating the tea selection process.
What were your expectations when you started?
The major focus for this project was to draw attention to quality specialty tea and make it relevant and approachable to a wider audience. We wanted to challenge ourselves to craft a product that tasted incredible whilst still respecting the skill and traditions of the original tea. We managed to retain some of the initial characteristics of the Jin Xuan and allowed new charms to be imparted by the cask.
How much time did you have to wait for the outcome?
We aged the tea in the barrel for 67 days.
What was the result? were you satisfied? what were the qualities the tea got from the ageing? Describe the tea in a couple of words. What way of brewing (recipe) would you recommend for this tea? Any food match?
Utilising the barrel-ageing process has been entirely experimental but we are so pleased with the result. The tea has developed a boozy whisky aroma, tropical fruit flavour and a thick mouth feel. The finish is long, with lingeringly sweet whisky notes.
I would brew this tea gongfu style. Three infusions — 4g per 100ml at 95°C
Do you plan to continue this project?
We have potential plans to age other styles of tea in different barrel types.
Would you be willing to share your tea aspirations with us?
My main goal is to help grow the market for specialty tea in Australia and to encourage local tea businesses. I aim to do this mainly through ongoing collaborations and events.