Flavours Of Kindness
issue 4, NOV 2023
Behind The Tea Brand
With Mingwei Tsai
PEOPLE, Issue 4
I firmly believe that happy cups lead to happy people.
Nigiro, a beloved name in the world of premium tea in South Africa, has always been synonymous with knowledge, wisdom, and the art of tea-making. For those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting our cherished tea cafe, you’ll understand the warmth and magic that the Nigiro family infuses into their brand. It’s a place where delectable cuisine, exquisite tea-tasting, and an ambiance of pure tranquility come together seamlessly. Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to someone who is not only an integral part of the Nigiro legacy but also the heart and soul of our tea training – Mingwei Tsai.
O’ways: How did you become interested in tea?
Mingwei: From a young age, I always enjoyed drinking tea with old people. The connection was the stories that people had. I really was drawn to the stories, and tea was just a platform where the stories were shared. We have a lot of opportunities to drink tea, but in these modern days, we don’t take those opportunities, and we let those opportunities slip. We often reflect and think, “Oh, I should have had a cup of tea with this person, or I should have communicated more”.
O’ways: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Mingwei: I came to South Africa 34 years ago, at the age of 12. My parents somehow convinced my uncle to emigrate from Taiwan to South Africa to study English. But little did I know that Braamfontein, wasn’t an English-speaking city. It is one of the most Afrikaans cities in South Africa. Nevertheless, I was there. My teachers at that time completely changed me. I was not really keen to study. I enjoyed my tea, but I didn”t enjoy studying at all. Later on, I changed, and I started really focusing on my academics.
I had an opportunity to study some engineering at UCD. After I had finished my bachelor’s studies. I went on to a master’s programme, and the master’s programme was upgraded to a PhD, specialising in wastewater treatment. But please don’t worry – our tea has nothing to do with processed wastewater!
It is the discipline that I acquired through wastewater research that really helped me understand that, nothing is impossible. If that very, very dirty wastewater can be treated to such a degree that it’s accepted by the receiving body of river and ocean, any key tea ingredient that comes our way should be able to be blended to create a beautiful, exciting mixture that is suitable for drinking.
My passion for tea continued into my high school years and into my university years. Nigiro started about 15 years ago, and O’ways tea cafes started about 13 years ago. The journey of tea has shaped the tea community here in South Africa and will continue beyond my time, forever. Thank you.
O’ways: How did you start Nigiro 15 years ago?
Minwei: Fifteen years ago, there was no loose-leaf tea appreciation, or very limited loose tea appreciation in the hotels and restaurants in South Africa. So, we entered into a joint venture with Origin Coffee to start Nigiro tea. At the beginning, I learned a lot. I think, at the time, it was necessary for the tea business to piggyback or to enter the market with the support of a more mature coffee industry.
I think with any industry, it’s about the people. At the time, the people at Origin were very appropriate people for this venture. It would never have been successful without the people at the time. So it is the people who made it successful, and it is now the different hotels and restaurants that support Nigiro and authentic and original tea making.
It becomes a teapot with beautiful aroma, colour and flavours that connect to everything around you.
The Art of Tea Ceremony
Step 1. “Once upon a time, there’s a heaven on earth.”
Step 2. “As the circle of life goes round and round…”
Step 3. “Sometimes, it can turn our world upside down…”
O’ways: You mentioned that the hotel and restaurant managers were open to the transformation. What kind of transformation can tea bring to the hospitality industry?
The transformation in tea that we are referring to is the transformation from a tea with ingredients over which you have no control to something which truly connects with you.
An exclusive tea blend uses ingredients that are directly connected to the hotel and restaurant. It speaks of the personality of the hotel. It speaks of the persona and the characteristics the of the hotel, it speaks about the design, the art, the architecture, the garden, the food, the wine, the colour of the furniture, the atmosphere of the hotel. All of that can be expressed through tea. It is a beverage with very high flexibility. At the same time, it has beautiful stories which connect it to the establishment.
When we speak about transformation, we are transforming it from a tea bag, a simple tea bag that is not connected to the hotel, to a loose-leaf tea with a tangible,connected ingredient.
The difference is humungous.
But to have that successfully carried out, it requires an extraordinary amount of forward-thinking and understanding of global food and tea beverage trends. It requires training and requires food and tea pairing and connections. It’s not just a simple cup of tea with a floating tea bag with a swinging tea tag on the side of the teacup.
It becomes a teapot with beautiful aromas, colours and flavours that connect to everything around you. So, it is a true transformation with a lot of impact.
O’ways: How does it impact the prestige attendant to the hotels through the tea?
We are a very small family-run boutique tea company in South Africa. We target hotels and restaurants that want to transform. We don’t just sell them tea. We provide the service, we provide the connection, we are part of this intricate wheel of transformation that transformed the beverage industry, the beverage sector.
I believe that happy cups become happy people. So I’m sure they are happy, and I’m sure they are connected, and they’re connecting with more people.
O’ways: How has being a part of our tea community impacted your life or tea journey?
Tea sharing with the tea community gets me to know more about tea. It broadens my perspective of tea because of the exclusive blending job that I do as well as the services provided. It gets me out of my comfort zone and considers ingredients that I would never otherwise consider if I were to drink tea by myself.
So I am shaped by the tea community and in return, I also have the opportunity to shape the tea community that has a great affinity with me.
O’ways: If someone has never been to O’ways before, and they come here for the tea, what would you recommend?
The one recommendation is to please follow your heart. Drink what your heart tells you, to be in harmony with yourself, to appreciate the tea in its purest form, appreciate its colour, appreciate its transformation of flavours. During the 3 or 5 minutes of infusion time, connect with that tea, connect with the ingredients of the tea, connect with the origin of the tea through the fragrance, through the flavours, through the energy that it radiates. You will know whether this tea is right for you or not…
Never forget to share that tea with others, with your friends, your loved ones, and your enemy. – Mingwei Tsai
Make a reservation and experience Mingwei’s tea tasting.
The infusion of Honeybush tea into the base of this soup offers a unique depth of flavour—a delicate sweetness intertwined with subtle earthy notes…
Honeybush tea, also known as “Heuningtee” in Afrikaans, hails from the beautiful landscapes of South Africa. It’s derived from the Cyclopia plant, which belongs to the legume family and has been used for centuries as an herbal infusion.
We, humans, have a special relationship with smoke. I’ve been curious about the idea of “smoke” since I was a young boy. Why do we humans have smokey places? Why is there always smoke in the temple? Why do people smoke? As I matured and experienced life, I also discovered that culinary artists love “smoking” their food and drinks. Why are we humans fascinated by smoked stuff?