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Lim Tian Wee
Most of us wake up to a cup of coffee but for Lim Tian Wee, "tea is in (his) blood".
He's also come a long way from helping out at the warehouse of the family business Lim Lam Thye - founded by his great-grandmother Lim Kheng Thiam in 1918 as a provision shop selling, what else, but Chinese tea - to starting its subsidiary Gryphon Tea Company a decade ago.
As executive director, the fourth-generation Mr Lim has brewed luxe into the aromatic beverage; and in the process, put the homegrown brand on the world map. Tea-lovers all over get a chance to savour the brand's premium blends via its online store and distribution partners.
Its newly-launched bespoke concept Monogram takes things a step further, encouraging serious aficionados to personalise their own blends using Gryphon's extensive library of ingredients including teas, herbs, and essential oils.
Having won 25 Great Taste Awards in the UK, the company now prides itself as "pioneers for the adaptation of Asian ingredients into accessible quality tea products", Mr Lim shares. We'll raise our cup to that.
Growing up, what was the Lim household like - was coffee a bad word? I never really knew the taste of coffee until later in my teens. When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. I used to watch him artfully prepare his cup of dark, roasted 'shui xian' oolong every morning and sip it from his cup. I also remember those days when I earned a handsome daily wage of S$5 for helping in the warehouse, opening wooden tea chests and blending tea with shovels. Little by little, I discovered the various types of teas and began enjoying two cups of it every morning and it has become a comforting ritual since.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you first started the company a decade over? Gryphon Tea Company has been fortunate to receive good support from the industry and the marketplace. We see challenges with growing competition from both local and international brands. Brands are now more in tune with gourmet trends, thus new ideas quickly become old. Market competition has spurred brands to continue to think differently to create magic. We hope to create innovation that will evolve to become traditions.
What would you say are some of your proudest moments heading Gryphon? The proudest moment for us is when we see our products being enjoyed by our customers. I enjoy hearing what people think about our teas. At times, you can almost experience the emotions that are associated with the tea drinking experience. These positive feedback is priceless and I deposit them into my motivation bank for more exciting ideas to come.
How do you and your team come up with the different blends? Over the years, Gryphon Tea Company has developed its expert knowledge through its interactions with industry captains and leaders. Since we started in late 2006, we have led the industry in product innovation. (The newly launched) Monogram Tea comes timely for Gryphon Tea Company as we celebrate our tenth-year milestone in the food service business. The process of creating Monogram collection started from a selection of tea bases which we think would work well with herbs. Searching through the library of herbs, we also considered offering a comprehensive range of herbs so that our customers will get the maximum tea layering options with their teas. We have spent numerous hours conceptualizing various tea layering options. We first taste the teas paired with various herbs; and vice versa tasting the herbs with various teas.
Tell us a little known fact about tea. To achieve the ideal cup of tea, always mind the water quality and start with fresh boiling water. I would also advise to avoid over-steeping tea to prevent bitterness, which is a very common concern amongst consumers. When in doubt, steep black teas for not more than five minutes, green teas and oolong teas for not more than four minutes, green teas/white teas for not more than three minutes.
In your opinion, would you say Singapore is a coffee or tea drinking nation? Ease of travel and the Internet has a big part to play in the globalisation of trends in a rapid manner. Trends move fast, so do fashion, food and music. I wouldn't say Singapore prefers one over the other. In order for trends to endure the test of time, consumers must feel they have ownership of their taste. That allows them to express their individuality and therefore creates a special bond with the brand.
What's the secret to a perfect cuppa? Monogram collection beckons the user to try their hand at tea layering. The experience is very personal and we believe the most enriching experience with our products would be in consumers' discovery of their own favourite blends. We hope every individual blend creation can evoke associated memories of life's precious moments. In our journey, we have met many who wonder how a Singaporean company produces such excellent tea blends when we do not even have any tea plantations here. I like to share a quote from one of my favorite animation films where food critic Anton Ego said in Ratatouille on his food experience, "Not everyone can become a great artist. A great artist can come from anywhere."