INSPIRED BY HER family heritage, Melissa Choi made it her mission to capture the essence of her grandmother's vibrant infusions and flowering teas. Today, her specialty blends are harvested in the Fujian province of China, irresistibly boxed and sold throughout some of the world's most prestigious stores. Photographed together with twin sister Joanna Cooper, Melissa shares her thoughts on starting her own business, making the perfect brew and parenting on the go
YOUR TEAS ARE SO DELICIOUS AND CALMING – HOW DID YOUR BUSINESS, CHOI TIME TEAS, COME ABOUT? Tea has always been a big part of my life, my father was Chinese and I was born in Hong Kong. My father came from a big traditional Chinese family; one of nine siblings. Every Sunday growing up we would meet with the family for a traditional yum cha, or dim sum. We would then always go back to my Ah Ma and Ah Yeh’s house where we would sit around a blackwood table and drink tea. I was always fascinated with the various leaves and flowers that she would add to the teapot – they were so pretty; this was our weekly ritual. I then travelled with Chinese tea when I left Australia in 1999; it’s always been a part of me. When I made my life in London I would give it to friends as gifts. They in turn suggested I sell it and the timing was right – I was a bit disillusioned with the corporate financial world that I was working in so I started to package my teas on the side; that was 10 years ago.
EACH TEA IS SUCH A VISUAL TREAT – LIKE WILD BLOOMS IN A GLASS! PLEASE SHARE YOUR VISION: Chinese specialty teas have always been a visual feast for the eyes, however it was only in the last decade that the Chinese artisans came up with the flowering tea bulb; essentially it's a natural tea bag in the way it holds together so many different ingredients and unfurls into a beautiful underwater garden. Choi Time Teas came about purely from the passion and love I have for Chinese specialty teas. I’ve been drinking these teas since I was able to hold a cup. My particular favourite is jasmine green tea, I am an addict and drink over 10 pints a day! My Chinese grandmother had a mantra: drinking jasmine tea is good for your skin and will help you stay slim. Growing up I never really thought too much about this, however now I find it so interesting to see her wisdom is backed by scientists – so many studies have shown how green tea reduces body fat, lowers cholesterol and you also find the ingredient in so many skincare brands.
Hey, Sister: above, Melissa Choi, seated right, with twin sister Joanna Cooper, both wearing COCO RIBBON; main picture top, Melissa, left, and Joanna, share more than a few similarities when it comes to their personal style.
CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH MAKING THE ULTIMATE BREW? Every culture has their own way of making tea: the Japanese have a distinct way of making matcha tea, it’s very ceremonial; the Chinese, however, don’t really have any set protocols, it's all about your family and its traditions. In my family, that meant using the best quality tea leaves available, using filtered water that is heated to approximately 92 degrees and then seeping the leaves and flowers. My advice is to always leave an inch of tea in your cup before refilling it with hot water. The Chinese have a saying:
The first cup is given away
The second cup is for yourself
The third cup is for the Emperor
The fourth cup is for your wife
The Fifth is for your servant
WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON MOTHERHOOD? I love being a mother, my two girls bring me joy every single day. When I think about them I get welled up with emotion. I don’t think there is a secret to a work-life balance, it’s individual to everyone's needs. For me, it meant building an office in my garden so I could be close to them whilst they grow up. They are both very young and for me I think these informative years are imperative, I want to be around to see them grow up; they grow up so darn quickly!
WHAT IS THE GREATEST LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM YOUR DAUGHTERS? There is no one great lesson, I learn from them every single day, about myself and about them and life through their eyes. It’s fascinating, frustrating, maddening and delightful all in one. There are good days and of course bad days. It would be a lie to say life was perfect all the time!
DO YOU HAVE CERTAIN FAMILY RITUALS, PARTICULAR TO YOUR LIFE IN LONDON, THAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO MOST? A weekend in London generally means lunch out, a trip to the ice cream shop then time in our garden. We love to potter around. Every second weekend we are in Hampshire visiting my in-laws who have a beautiful estate. The children love collecting eggs, feeding the sheep and the horses and running around with the dogs, it’s a great escape from the hecticness and crowdedness of London life. There is nothing more beautiful then the English countryside.
HOW DO YOU UNWIND IN THOSE RARE OFF-DUTY MOMENTS? HOW DO YOU PAMPER YOURSELF AT THE END OF A BUSY WEEK ON THE GO? Definitely with a glass or two of wine, a long bath and maybe a massage or foot reflexology – I adore foot reflexology, I had it once a week whilst pregnant.
AND LASTLY, THE IDEA OF BEING A TWIN IS, OF COURSE, ALWAYS SO FASCINATING TO THOSE OF US WHO AREN’T. CAN YOU SHARE YOUR CURRENT INSPIRATIONS: