You may pass Fort Sanctuary off as yet another Singaporean tea house that hopes to bridge tradition with modernity. But you’ll be surprised to know that it isn’t.
Unlike most other tea houses that boast a wide variety of high quality tea options, Fort Sanctuary specialises in only one: The Wuyi rock-essence tea. This variety of Chinese oolong tea is touted to be one of the finest and most complex teas in the world, and is highly regarded by tea connoisseurs and experts in China. The plant grows among the rocky terrains of the Wuyi mountains in the most prestigious and prime plots of land. The leaves have the potential to deliver unparalleled intensity and richness, along with a unique expression of terroir of the mountains, making it highly sought after.
Given its esteemed reputation, one might expect the tea’s harvesting process to be well monitored. But Lau Kiat Boon, Fort Sanctuary’s co-founder, revealed that the assumption is not quite true.
How It All Began
Fort Sanctuary began as an NGO set up by Lau’s father about 15 years ago in China as a health resort for cancer patients. While surveying sites in Wuyishan for the resort, his father noticed that the local tea farmers and businesses there had no interest in food safety where the management of the tea plants were concerned. Pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers were freely used and this horrified the Singaporean team. They realised that these highly regarded tea leaves have long been laden with poison. This would pose health issues to consumers worldwide. Lau also revealed that many tea companies have issues with food safety compliance because they do not manage tea plants directly. In fact, these companies bought the leaves (fresh or partially processes) from farmers or suppliers. Lau decided that he could not allow this to continue any further, and took matters into his own hands.
“We do not need to reinvent management of tea plants. Plant management on prime plots in Wuyishan is no rocket science,” he explains. “Our approach is very simple: if we do not use poisonous pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers on the plants and soil, then our leaves will never be contaminated. We had to make the effort to clear weeds by hand and make sure that plants are properly taken care of. We understood that this will result in lower yield and higher cost. But it is a small price to pay in the grander scheme of things.”
Disrupting The Industry With Good Intentions
“After much discussion and planning, we initiated some projects with tea farmers in attempt to introduce alternative and more respectful management of tea plants. The practices were to exclude chemical pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides,” Lau shares. He also added that this initiative was aimed to educate and help the farmers make the switch to managing the plants more effectively without compromising on food safety.
Through these actions, Lau hoped to bring transformative change to the tea industry. He also stated that it was important for him to lead with honesty, integrity, kindness and being virtuous, as these values were often practiced by his father.
Of Taste And Techniques
After a few years of experimenting, they developed an expertise in the processing of finest of teas.
“One important discovery is refining the tea’s firing stage so that the leaves can develop better at their resting stage. We found that Wuyi rock-essence tea is best consumed upon the leaves’ resting, and this could take up to three years,” he briefly revealed. Firing is the stage in tea processing that involves heating the tea leaves to both dry them and prevent them from further oxidising. The resting stage then follows, and this involves keeping the leaves in storage to allow unique flavours and aromas to develop.
“We knew we had a gem in our findings. The techniques we discovered deliver significant improvement in the teas’ intensity, richness, texture, vibrancy and finish – things that the global tea industry had never seen before,” Lau mentions. In 2013, Fort Sanctuary, the tea business as we know today, was finally set up. Later on, the brand’s tea processing facility was set up in Tuas in 2014.
“Our processing facility in Tuas specialises in precise firing. We designed it to work perfectly with the resting process in Singapore,” Lau continues. With that, Fort Sanctuary became the first to perform elite class tea processing in the country, as declared by Singapore Food Agency.
Bringing Quality To The Table
With the discovery of different firing procedures and the variations in each of the procedures, Fort Sanctuary is well-equipped to perform an infinite number of unique tea products.
Currently, the brand offers five specialty teas – 528, 516, 609, 745 and 766 – each showcasing unique characteristics of the Wuyi rock-essence teas at different stages of their development. Over the years, the 528 had grown to become both the brand’s signature and a crowd favourite.
“The 528 is a classic example of a highly respected Wuyi rock-essence tea, demonstrating enigmatic sophistication and mysterious flair,” explains Daphne Lau, Fort Sanctuary’s fellow co-founder.
“This fragrant tea expresses the prestigious terroir of Wuyishan. It is rich with deep flavors, and is luxuriously smooth and soft on the palate,” she further elaborates.
The Fort Sanctuary Experience
To have a taste of Fort Sanctuary’s high quality products, The Esplanade Mall is where it’s at. Two of the brand’s arms, Fort Sanctuary @Esplanade and RespecT are situated at the location.
“At Fort Sanctuary @Esplanade, we share our finest specialty teas with visitors through sensory-rich tea experiences,” Daphne says. The interior is designed to mimic the mountainous terrains of Wuyishan, and is intended to inspire visitors to connect to nature and think about caring for the land and tea plants.
RespecT sits right across Fort Sanctuary @Esplanade , and this tea house is where visitors get to sit down and enjoy the brand’s brews from the menu. An interesting aspect of this space is that some of the rarest and finest teas are made accessible to visitors, even going so far as to allow them to get play around with the different tea leaves. Creating your own personalised tea blends is highly encouraged, as this makes the tea experience fun and exciting.
You can also bring the Fort Sanctuary experience home by purchasing the teas from these spaces. The teas are prized from $39 to $200 per box.
Click here for more information on Fort Sanctuary.
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