insight - Taha Bouqdib, Tea Blender
Written by Kenny Mah Photography by CK Lim
Master tea blender Taha Bouqdib is sharing the art of tea culture and appreciation with the world through fine tea purveyor TWG Tea.
We are seated at the opulent TWG Tea Garden at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. There are rows of canary-yellow canisters filled with exquisite fine teas carefully selected from around the world. Names like Comptoir des Indes and Emperor’s White Garden beguile. In fact, there are over 800 single-estate fine harvest teas and exclusive blends to choose from, as well as tea patisseries and other tea-infused delicacies.
Yet all of this grandeur might never have come into being had fate moved in a different direction. President and co-founder of TWG Tea, Taha Bouqdib, who is of Moroccan descent, shares, “Before joining the tea business, I was part of the Royal Army of Morocco. My father was preparing me to work for the King of Morocco, as he had, before I discovered the world of tea.”
A friend who was working in a fine tea company in Paris persuaded the then 23-year-old Bouqdib to give the business a try two decades ago. This gave him the opportunity to learn the craft of tea blending and build strong relationships with tea estates worldwide that still endure today.
The Moroccan army’s loss is the speciality tea industry’s gain. Bouqdib started TWG Tea (TWG stands for The Wellness Group) with co-founder
Today TWG Tea has tea salons and boutiques in Singapore, UAE, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia. The exclusive Dean & DeLuca delicatessen chain is carrying TWG teas in the USA.
Bouqdib recognises the international, cross-cultural appeal of tea. He notes that tea has always been in his blood: “In Morocco, tea is a very important component of social life. Everybody is always welcomed with a cup of tea with mint wherever you go, whether you are with family, friends, or business partners. And in France, afternoon tea has always been regarded as one of the most chic pastimes, especially in Paris where the weather gets very cold.”
This French connection has inspired Bouqdib to position TWG Tea as an haute couture tea brand and to actively seek out associations with luxury fashion labels.
“The way we choose the tea leaves, blend them with the most luxurious ingredients, and create the packaging is done the same way as haute couture designers would select the most precious pearls or diamonds to pair with the most exquisite fabric. We also have seasonal collections where colours and flavours are created in sync with the trends of the moment – the same way it happens in the fashion industry.”
This nod towards a clientele that appreciates the finer things in life has TWG Tea looking towards the Middle East for the next stage of their brand expansion.
He adds, “I was recently travelling to Qatar and was amazed by the country’s development. I see Qatar as one of the most important countries of the Middle East.”
Tea aficionados can expect TWG to create new teas, tea blends, and accessories exclusively for Qatar and other countries it is venturing into. Bouqdib developed the Tokyo-Singapore Haute Couture Tea to celebrate TWG’s first Japanese store at Jiygaoka, Tokyo.
“We wanted to represent the mix of the Japanese and Singaporean tea-drinking cultures in this exclusive tea blend, available only at TWG Tea Japan,” he says.
When the TWG Tea Counter was launched as the first tea brand allowed to reside at Harrods’ legendary Tea & Coffee Hall in London, TWG celebrated this collaboration with the Grand Harrods Haute Couture Tea. In New York, Bouqdib designed the Dean & DeLuca Haute Couture Tea for the TWG Tea Counter at the Madison Avenue store.
While every TWG Tea Salon & Boutique worldwide maintains the same selection of teas, packaged teas, and tea accessories, Bouqdib reassures me that TWG will never duplicate the design of each outlet, only the concept. “The spirit of TWG Tea Salons & Boutiques is the same around the globe, although each location is unique.”
If this sounds ambitious, Bouqdib is no stranger to meeting challenges. When he first visited Singapore, everybody in the tea industry told him his biggest trial would be to sell tea to Asians.
“This is because tea is free here; you can drink it everywhere or at any restaurant. Therefore, we had to make sure we created the best teas and blends they ever tasted. Tea belongs to Asia and our challenge today is to be the first luxury tea brand from Asia to the world.”
After all these years in the industry, Bouqdib remains as excited about tea as he did on his first day: “I love the tea business because I don’t feel like I am working; it is my hobby and my passion. I don’t see it as work. Tea is a lifestyle.”
A tea for every occasion
As a tea connoisseur and evangelist, Bouqdib believes that teas can be selected to suit any time of day. For a strong pick-me-up in the morning, Bouqdib recommends TWG’s Singapore Breakfast Tea, a blend of black and green tea. Every sip is a stroll through the island, a collection of spices and vistas in a teacup.
For a lighter cup in the evening, there’s TWG’s White Miracle Tea, a precious Yin Zhen white tea blend that is relaxing because it is very low in theine (the caffeine in tea). Perfect served on its own after dinner or to share with friends.
Not sure which tea goes best with your meal? TWG’s signature green tea blend Silver Moon Tea may be paired with any type of food, savoury or sweet.
1837 and the History of Tea
Ever wondered what the number 1837 in TWG Tea’s logo signifies? Most assume it’s the year the company was established. (TWG is much younger than it looks: it was launched in September 2007.)
Bouqdib selected this special date to celebrate the start of the lucrative tea trade in Singapore with the creation of the Chamber of Commerce in 1837. Back then, the island was lauded as the most renowned trading post between Europe and the Far East. Junks from China, Siam, and the Celebes would arrive loaded with the most precious of cargoes: chests of fine teas.
Centuries ago, Singapore was the gateway of the global tea trade. Those glory days may well be returning with TWG.