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I recently visited one of Belgium’s finest tea houses and was impressed by the service and premium teas. Jef from Biochi Antwerpen is a relaxed and down-to-earth guy who fell in love with tea and China in general. I asked him if I could ask him some questions about himself and his shop. He was happy to answer all my questions so we just drank tea and talked about it for over 4 hours!
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Biochi Fine Tea Lounge
Biochi Antwerpen is one of the few specialised tea houses in Belgium. This one is different from most other tea shops because you can buy tea but also drink it in the shop. The vast majority of tea shops/stores in Belgium only sell tea. In the past, there were more tea houses but they switched to only selling tea. Here in Antwerp, you have the possibility to buy tea, have a gong fu session and get some advice from the owner.
If you are ever in Belgium, make sure to visit Biochi Antwerpen! If you want to experience premium tea, one address: Lange Koepoortstraat 43 in Antwerp! It’s very close to the city centre.
We talked about a lot of different things and I recorded the whole conversation. It took a very long time to transcribe it but I managed to come up with an overview of the most important things we talked about.
How did you get into the world of tea?
I started, like most people, by drinking tea from teabags. I really crossed paths with loose leaf tea around 20 years ago when I was travelling in China. I think I was crazy for going there for the first time but once I arrived, I immediately felt at home! I drank a lot of tea during that trip and that got things going. I accidentally visited several tea regions and had the chance to learn some things about tea and I really became fascinated by it. When I got back, I kept drinking the tea I had brought with me and visited some local tea stores in Ghent. For a short period, I didn’t drink as much tea anymore but when I went back to Yunnan Province in China, my love for the leaf finally happened. I travelled alone for several months and made a lot of friends who further guided me into the world of loose leaf tea. When I came back, I felt connected to the Leaf.
Wat do you like about tea?
There are several reasons. One of these reasons is that you can share your passion with other people. If you are passionate about something, you want to share that with as many people as possible and me having a tea shop and tea house is an amazing way to try and achieve that. It’s amazing to share the teas you like with other people and to see their reaction if they like it as well; that is priceless! Some people come in here looking a bit depressed and they walk out laughing after they had tea! Tea will never let you down. If you’re feeling a bit down, tea is there for you. Another aspect is the fact that tea is never the same! You can brew the exact same tea several times and it will never be exactly the same. It would become boring if it’s the same every time, I think I’ll get bored very quickly.
Difference between cheaper tea and good (usually more expensive) tea?
That is a common question. People wonder why you should pay double for more expensive tea when there is a cheaper alternative available. You can do a lot more with expensive and good tea than you can with cheap tea because cheap tea is usually of much lower quality. This is, however, not always the case, just as buying expensive tea is not a guarantee for high quality. Make sure you only buy from sources you trust. If you’re brewing cheaper tea and you prepare multiple infusions, the flavours can already be gone after two steeps. Other teas (like mine) take you a lot further. It’s more expensive to buy it but you can make more tea from the same leaves, which makes it cheaper if you think about it. Cheap tea can also be way too intense at the start and then the flavours die out very quickly. One moment, it’s almost too intense to drink and a moment later, you only have lightly coloured water left.
Which water do you use for your tea?
I use filtered tap water. It’s not practical to make all tea here by using bottled water. I did this in the beginning but I got a massive pile of empty bottles after one month so I switched to filtered water. I have a filter system installed that filters the water and makes it perfect for me to use. The water here in Antwerp is not suitable to use without being filtered because it’s really ‘hard’; there are a lot of minerals in it. It all depends on where you live. At home, for example, I use a Britta filter to make the water suitable for tea brewing.
(I myself (Pieter) use unfiltered tap water and I think it’s perfectly fine. I once tested it by brewing the same tea with bottled water and tap water and I liked the tea made with the tap water the most. The water in Aalst is quite good for tea brewing. )
What are your plans for the future?
I have some projects going on now and I also have some ideas about new projects in the future. I recently started a webshop (www.thewayoftea.be and www.fineteaware.be) where I offer the teas I sell in my store. I’m also looking to offer my teas in restaurants. There are already several restaurants in the neighbourhood where you can buy my teas but I plan on further expanding this list. Somewhere in the future, we also want to offer puer tea! One downside of good puer is that it’s quite expensive. It’s like wine but not as ‘bad’; when you open a very expensive bottle of wine, it’s gone after 30 minutes. When you open an expensive puer cake, you can enjoy it for a very long time! I also plan to offer more Yixing teaware. Something between the top grade (handmade) pots and the cheap pots. Something in between that is partially handmade but most important is that it’s not made in factories.
Any advice for people who want to buy a Yixing pot?
The lid and the pot should fit almost perfectly! There shouldn’t be a gap and you shouldn’t be able to move the lid once it is on the pot. It’s less important that the top of the pot is on one line; so the spout, opening and handle are on one line and that you can put the pot upside down and that you can’t ‘wobble’ it. That is something that is more important for older and more antique pots. This is, however, very difficult to find! A final trick to see if the lid seals off well is to blow in the spout when the lid is on the pot. If you close the hole at the top of the lid while blowing in the spout, there shouldn’t be any air coming out from between the pot and the lid. Hitting the pot is something you shouldn’t do as you can’t really hear if it’s a good pot or not. You can even break the pot so don’t go doing that in a tea store. The owners won’t like it! If you really want to hear the sound, you can always ask the store owner to do it for you.
Have you noticed a difference in the appreciation of tea in general?
It’s a big difference nowadays than the situation two or three years ago. A lot more people appreciate tea and want to know more about it. Not only in the amount of tea that I’m selling but in general, people know a lot more. People are more knowledgeable than they were several years ago. It’s also getting more common to have food and tea pairings; to find the perfect tea for each dish. For example, I now provide the tea for a one-star restaurant here in Antwerp (Nathan).
Do you want a healthy and refreshing drink? I posted a recipe of a Silver Needle Peach Iced Tea. It’s perfect to stay hydrated during the summer months while drinking something healthy and delicious! You can read detailed instructions over here.
I’ve had two different teas during the time I was there and I was completely amazed by them! The flavours were full-bodied, deep and soooo fantastic! These teas are definitely among the top teas I have ever tried. I started with a Lapsang Souchong, followed by a Rou Gui Rock oolong. I was so impressed by the Rou Gui that I bought 25g! I wanted to experience this tea at home as well.
Some final words of wisdom?
Be and stay humble while drinking tea. Just experience what the leaves want to give you and let them guide you.
If you want to visit Biochi Antwerpen’s website: http://www.biochiantwerpen.be/. This is also where you can order the teas online.