Pek Sin Choon

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The storefront of Pek Sin Choon at Mosque Street. Photo from Pinky Piggu.

Pek Sin Choon (白新春茶庄) is a family-owned tea shop located at 36 Mosque Street. Founded in 1925, it is one of the oldest tea merchants in Singapore with over 90 years of history. The tea business has been featured in television programmes on Channel U and CCTV-4 in China and also on the local Chinese radio station 96.3好FM.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Pek Sin Choon has organised the Nanyang Tea Challenge (南洋茶挑战赛) since 2018 to promote Chinese tea appreciation. In July 2019, Pek Sin Choon received the ‘Friends of the Arts’ Award from the National Arts Council for its support of the arts scene in Singapore.[7]

Background

Kenry Peh, the fourth-generation owner of Pek Sin Choon. Photo from Portfoliomagsg.

Established in 1925, the family-run tea business has seen through three location shifts and four generations of owners. As of 2019, its present owner is Kenry Peh Ching Her (白进火), who wanted to pursue a career in the Singapore Armed Forces before being invited by his aunt to join the business in 1993.[8][9][10]

When broken down, the Pek (白) in ‘Pek Sin Choon’ is a nod to the family surname and Sin Choon (新春) means the beginning of spring.[11]The logo of Pek Sin Choon was inspired by its founder, Pek Kim Aw who was described as “Buffalo Head” for his lawful and “by the book” character. Coincidentally, Pek Sin Choon was founded in the year of the Buffalo as per the Chinese calendar.[12]

Origins

Pek Kim Aw (pictured second from right, second row) the founder of Pek Sin Choon. Photo from Pek Sin Choon's Facebook page.

Pek Kim Aw opened his first tea store in George Street in 1925 after noticing a demand for tea in Singapore.[13][14] He saw that Chinese working men gathered at Bak Kut Teh eateries to exchange information and that the meal was often followed by tea. Pek Kim Aw brought in tea from China that he then sold on the streets before setting up his store.[15][16]

Timeline

Year Event Description Tea Blends Developed
1925[17] Pek Sin Choon founded and opened at George Street. Ding Shang Bai Mao Hou (顶上白毛猴)

Tao Yuan Hong (桃源红)

Branch of Fragrance (一支香)

Xin Chun Souchong (新春小种)

Grade 1 Tie Guanyin (一等铁观音)

1930s[18] - Wuyi Iron Arahat (武夷铁罗汉)

Sin Choon Daffodil (新春水仙)

1948[19] Store relocated to 53, 55 New Market Road after World War II. -
1950s[20][21] Pek Kim Aw featured a female table tennis player on the Ping Pong Champion Tie Guanyin (研发出乒乓铁冠音) tea packaging. Renowned Unknown Fragrance (著名不知香)

Ping Pong Champion Tie Guanyin (研发出乒乓铁冠音): In commemoration of China's first title as champions for Men's Singles Table Tennis in 1959.

1970s[22][23] Pek Kim Aw experimented with premium tea blends to cater to the higher standards of living in Singapore. Golden Cassia (黄金桂奇种)

The Preeminent Fragrance (超级香极极): The name of the tea was inspired by 'Princess Xiang' - a character in a popular Hong Kong drama series titled ‘Books & Swords’ (书剑恩仇录). When enunciated in Hokkien, Princess sounds like 'high fragrance’, denoting the tea blend's profile.

1989[24] Store relocated to 1 Teo Chew Street due to the construction of new expressway (CTE). -
1999[25] Store relocated to 36 Mosque Street due to the construction of the North-East MRT line. -
2000s[26] - Royal Tie Guanyin (安溪观音王)

Charm of Buddha Palm (佛手神奇种)

Royal Daffodil (武夷水仙王)

Products

Pek Sin Choon specializes in the wholesale of tea blends.[27] It reportedly offers over 100 inhouse tea blends.[28] Pek Sin Choon supplies to teahouses, hotels and restaurants. Since its founding, Pek Sin Choon has partnered with four to five growers in the Fujian and Yunnan province and mostly imports Jasmine, Pu’er and Oolong tea leaves.[29][30][31] Kenry Peh, the fourth-generation owner of Pek Sin Choon introduced carbonation to its tea. Pek Sin Choon’s ‘Sparkling Tea’ is mainly sold during events.[32][33]

Traditional production process

A part of Pek Sin Choon's production process. Photo from Pek Sin Choon's Facebook page.

Pek Sin Choon roasts and packs its tea leaves on-site within the store compound. In the past, tea leaves were roasted using charcoal. When Pek Sin Choon was still at New Market Road, family members had to fill up four potholes with over 50 kilograms of charcoal to start the roasting process. The fire had to be tended for up to two weeks. As of current, Pek Sin Choon uses ovens to roast their leaves.[34][35]


Dried tea leaves are first measured and portioned before being wrapped in two layers of pink and white paper. Symbolic to the post-war period where paper was scarce, pink medical paper was used to wrap the tea due to its lower cost. Since then, the business has continued this tradition.[36] Despite the laborious process, Pek Sin Choon upholds its manual processes as a tribute to its roots.[37]

Renowned Unknown Fragrance (Tea Blend)[38][39][40][41]

The packaging of Renowned Unknown Fragrance tea blend. Photo from Pinky Piggu.

Pek Sin Choon supplies its ‘Renowned Unknown Fragrance’ tea blend to at least 80 percent of Bak Kut Teh restaurants in Singapore — notably to Song Fa Bak Kut Teh (松發肉骨茶). The two businesses have a lasting relationship spanning over 50 years.[42][43]


When founder Pek Kin Aw was naming the tea blend, he could not describe the fragrance of the blend in words which led to the use of the word ‘Unknown’. The packaging of the tea blend contains a poem that reads:

不知香则味 - I know not what this fragrance is

数里喉亦香 - It lingers on in the throat

高山之人迳 - High up in the mountains, hardly a path exists

深山亦有人 - But deep in the mountains, some find their way in

泉声烟危石 - The Stream meanders through craggy rocks, whimpering

日失冷青松 - Rays of the setting sun chill the green pines

Current owner Kenry Peh holds a fond memory of this poem and his grandfather. As a child, his grandfather would have him recite the verses in Hokkien. When he failed to do so, he received a ‘Gah Na Ji’ — (trans.) a knock on the head.

Teaware sets

On top of tea blends, Pek Sin Choon offers custom teaware sets.[44] In 2018, with the help of the Singapore Tourism Board’s ‘Experience Step Up Fund’, Pek Sin Choon introduced the ‘Nanyang Tea Brewing Combo Set’. Designed by Creativean, the set is a portable tea-brewing kit consisting of a teapot set and 5 different packs of tea blends. The box set can be converted into a piggy bank which symbolizes the hard work and frugality of business’ predecessors.[45][46][47]

Collaborations

The 1950s tea-hanging tea bag set. Photo from Pek Sin Choon's Facebook page.

Pek Sin Choon is a supporter of Singapore's local arts scene. Over the years, Pek Sin Choon has partnered with various organizations, creating bespoke tea blends for each event.

Year Organisations Partnered Event Product Developed Refs.
September 2019 Chinatown Heritage Centre & Patrick Yee Mid Autumn Festival 1950s tea-hanging tea bag set [48]
July 2019 Nine Years Theatre - ‘Horizon’ tea blend [49]
Gallery & Co. & Orbjek Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s - 1990s (Exhibition) - [50]
March 2018 Evil Empire Emerald Hill Art Walk by OH! Open House 'Tea Revives the World' [51][52]
March 2016 Nine Years Theatre ‘Red Demon’ (Play) ‘Red Demon’ tea blend [53]
July 2015 Drama Box Drama Box's 25th Anniversary ‘GoLi’ tea blend [54][55]

Events

2019

In 2019, Pek Sin Choon partnered with Temenggong Artists-in-Residence - hosting a tea brewing ceremony. Photo from Facebook.
Pek Sin Choon is the official organiser of the annual Nanyang Tea Challenge.
Date Event Location Refs.
October 2019 Ren Ci Vegetarian Food Fiesta (仁慈素食会) Ren Ci Community Hospital [56]
September 2019 A Tea Journal @ Temenggong Artists-In-Residence Temenggong Artists-In-Residence [57][58]
Happy Tea (快来茶) Parent-Child Workshop Singapore Chinese Culutral Centre (SCCC), Creative Box [59][60]
August 2019 Remembering 7 Sisters’ Festival Chinatown Heritage Centre [61]
March 2019 Pek Sin Choon Nanyang Tea Challenge (南洋茶挑战赛) Bedok Town Square [62]
Singapore Heritage Festival 36 Mosque Street (within store compounds) [63]

2018

Date Event Location Refs.
November 2018 Wan Qing Culturefest 2018 Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall [64][65]
October 2018 Ren Ci Vegetarian Food Fiesta (仁慈素食会) Ren Ci Community Hospital (仁慈医院) [66][67]
Beginners’ Tea Workshop Awareness Hub [68]
September 2018 Nanyang Tea Story (南洋茶小故事)   Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) [69][70]
July 2018 Tea, Pottery, Temenggong Temenggong Artists-In-Residence [71]
June 2018 ‘Ching Her and the mysterious tea’ book launch Chinatown Heritage Centre [72]
nEbO Youth Entrepreneurship Symposium 2018 PSB Academy City Campus [73]
Tea Appreciation & Exhibition Chinatown, Kreta Ayer Square [74]
April 2018 Pek Sin Choon Nanyang Tea Challenge (南洋茶挑战赛) Chinatown, Kreta Ayer Square [75][76]
February 2018 Singapore Airshow 2018 Changi Exhibition Centre [77][78]

2017

Date Event Location Refs.
November 2017 Tea Brewing workshop [email protected] - Senior Activity Centre [79]
September 2017 Moonfest Tea Room (艺满茶轩) Esplanade Annexe Studio [80][81]
August 2017 Let’s Carnival Together 2017 Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School [82]
July 2017 Beginners’ Tea Appreciation Workshop Awareness Hub [83]
May 2017 Auspicious Vesak Day Big Box, Level 3 Event Hall [84]
April 2017 Singapore Hokkien Festival 2017: Hokkien Food Galore 137 Telok Ayer Street [85]
March 2017 The Legend of Tea Nanyang Technological University (NTU) [86]

2016

Date Event Location Refs.
November 2016 Chinese Classics (经典名家名曲) SOTA Drama Theatre [87]
October 2016 Give n Take Art Exhibition and Tea Appreciation session 333 Kreta Ayer Road [88]
September 2016 Ren Ci Vegetarian Food Fiesta (仁慈素食会) Ren Ci Community Hospital (仁慈医院) [89]
Esplanade MoonFest 2016 Tea Corner Esplanade Festival Corner [90]
May 2016 Poetry appreciation session with tea (吟诗茶会 缘起) Ann Kway Association (安溪会馆) [91]
April 2016 Singapore Heritage Festival Bukit Pasoh [92]
March 2016 健康 No. 1 Health Carnival Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre [93]
Metta Charity Carnival Metta School [94][95]

2015

Date Event Location Refs.
September 2015 Moonfest Esplanade Festival Corner [96]
Ren Ci Vegetarian Food Fiesta (仁慈素食会) Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery [97]
Mid Autumn Festival @ Singapore Expo Singapore Expo [98]
Singapore Hokkien Festival 2015: Hokkien Food Galore 137 Telok Ayer Street [99]
August 2015 Let’s Carnival 2015 Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School [100]
May 2015 Vesak Day Carnival (吉祥园游会) Woodlands MRT Station [101]

2014

Date Event Location Refs.
November 2014 Ultimate Hawker Fest 2014 Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre [102]
Ren Ci Vegetarian Food Fiesta (仁慈素食会) Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery [103]

References / Citations

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