Can Modern Tea Salons Revive Tea Culture in Hong Kong?

Flamingo Bloom opens its third Hong Kong tea salon at the ifc mall one year after the first shop was opened in another part of town. The tea purveyor serves what it claims is a ‘healthy alternative’ to coffee. Is this the sign of a revival of Hong Kong’s tea-drinking culture?

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A Flamingo Bloom Tea Salon. Photo Credit: Drinks Are Not Alone.

Can a chain of tea salons committed to environmentally friendly practices revive Hong Kong’s tea-drinking culture?

Hong Kong has a well-established tea-drinking culture, which has been under attack for many years.

Teahouses serving Cantonese style dim sum, which was washed down with piping hot pots of loose-leaf tea, were a time-honoured institution in Hong Kong.

That’s where breakfast was taken. That’s where business deals were sealed. That’s where family bonds were nurtured.

A tea house should not be confused with a cha chaan teng, which is Cantonese for “tea restaurant”, an informal eatery in Hong Kong serving mostly Hong Kong- style Western food and sometimes Southeast Asian dishes.

In addition to tea, cha chaan teng also serve another classic Hong Kong-hybrid known as yuan yang, a hot beverage consisting of equal parts coffee and tea as well as milk and sugar.

I can assure you that if you were not to the manner born, you probably won’t like it.

Golden Arches

Things began to change in Hong Kong with the arrival of McDonald’s in the mid-1970s. Initially, commentators laughed at the arrival of the American fast-food chain, claiming the Chinese would never take to hamburgers.

Slowly but surely they did, and over time, the hamburger started to challenge dim sum as Hong Kong’s favourite bite. Tea, meanwhile, was replaced by another American import: Coca-Cola.

There are now certainly more McDonald’s outlets in Hong Kong than tea houses. And there are reputedly more McDonald’s outlets per capita in Hong Kong than any other place on earth other than the United States.

The arrival of other American style fast food chains such at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut have made a further impact on Hong Kong’s eating (and drinking) habits.

Coffee House Chains

With the proliferation of American coffee-house chains Pacific Coffee and Starbucks, the decline of Hong Kong’s traditional tea-drinking culture has taken a further hit.

Pacific Coffee arrived in the then-British Crown Colony in 1992, opening one outlet in the Bank of America Tower in Central.

More outlets quickly followed, and there are now approximately 115 Pacific Coffee outlets scattered about Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and the outlying islands.

Seattle-based Pacific Coffee had a near monopoly on the coffee house scene in Hong Kong until Starbucks, which is also based in Seattle, opened an outlet at Exchange Square in Central on 3 May 2000. A second outlet opened the following day.

There are now an estimated 170 Starbucks outlets throughout Hong Kong. And other coffee house chains such as illy and Crostini are starting to open up outlets across town, as well.

Can anything be done to halt this trend?

Introducing Flamingo Bloom

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A not pink flamingo life preserver at a Flamingo Bloom outlet. Photo Credit: Drinks Are Not Limited.

Flamingo Bloom has a mission to revive Hong Kong’s time-honoured tea-drinking culture by taking contemporary lifestyles and preferences into consideration.

The home-grown tea salon chain serves premium loose-leaf teas over ice or mixed with what it called “healthy ingredients” such as fresh fruit, French rose, chrysanthemum, and/or matcha.

Ingredients have been carefully chosen to complement the flavours of the following four kinds of hand-crafted premium “base” teas that are currently on offer:

  • Jasmine Tips Green Tips Tea from Fujian
  • Highland Oolong from Taiwan
  • French Rose Buds from France
  • Chrysanthemum Pu’er from Yunnan

How to Order

Ordering a beverage at Flamingo Bloom is a bit like ordering rice noodles (a.k.a. mi xian) at one of the growing number of Yunanese-style noodle shops that have been growing in popularity in Hong Kong in recent years.

You start by ordering your base. Then you then choose from a selection of fresh fruit, boba pearls, latte, or a salted milk cap, which is essentially a mix of fresh milk, whipped cream, cheese powder, and sea salt, which can a decadent finish to your.

The Yunanese noodle analogy continues, but instead of choosing your preferred level of spiciness, you choose your preferred level of sweetness.

If you’re not sure how sweet you would like your beverage, you might want to start with the house pour, which features a “light touch” of sugar cane to accentuate the floral notes and flavours of each tea.

On subsequent visits you can notch the amount of sweetness up or down a level according to your preference.

Signature combinations include intense orange; smashed strawberry or mango with a salted milk cap; and boba beetroot milk.

In all, there are  dozens of possible ways to mix and match the ingredients.

If you’re feeling peckish, there isn’t any dim sum. Instead, you will find tea-infused cupcakes, which will appeal to those with a sweet tooth.

Mixed Before Your Very Eyes!

Unlike most grab-and-go tea shops, tea-barristas at Bloom and Flamingo mix tea-infused drinks at the counter in front of your very eyes.

Not only does this add drama to the preparation of your drink. It also ensures that you know exactly what goes inside.

Eco-friendly

Flamingo Bloom not only serves what it claims are “healthy drinks” that are packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants. The company is also committed to the environment.

To cut down on plastic waste, customers are encouraged to bring their own cup when they patronize Flamingo Bloom. A 600-milligram cup is recommended.

Customers that bring their own cup are entitled to a HK$2 discount on their drink.

The company is also in the process of replacing plastic straws with paper straws and stainless steel straws, and cup lids have been designed to eliminate the need for straws altogether.

In another eco-friendly move, smoothies and teas can also be served in hollowed-out pineapples, melons, and watermelons, rather than plastic bowls.

 

Flamingo Bloom 101

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A grab-and-go Flamingo Bloom tea shop. Photo Credit: Drinks Are Not Limited.

Flamingo Bloom was launched in July 2017 by Drinks Are Not Limited with a single outlet in Central.

Since then, three more outlets have been added: another one in Central, one in Kowloon, and the company’s first overseas outletin Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Drinks Are Not Limited wants to update China’s traditional tea-drinking culture by offering handcrafted floral loose-leaf teas that are packed with antioxidants and all-natural ingredients.

Premium loose leaf teas are carefully sourced and contain no synthetic flavours, added glucose, powders, or unnatural colourings.

Where

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A Flamingo Bloom tea salon with sit-down seating. Photo Credit: Drinks Are Not Limited.

There are currently three Flamingo Bloom outlets in Hong Kong and one in Kuala Lumpur.

  • ifc mall Shop 1032, Podium Level 1, Central, Hong Kong.
  • G/F, Shop B, World Trust Tower, 50 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong.
  • G/F, Mangan Building, 18-20 Cameron Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
  • Sunway Pyramid Mall, G/F, Shop G1.121A, No.3 Jalan PJS 11/15, Bandar Sunway, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 

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