Another F&B Story: Present-Day Traditions


Melody & Xian
Tea Brewer F&B

In an age of excess, more is more is more. We work more to earn more money to buy more things; it’s a never-ending cycle. But, as many of us have also learnt, all good things come with a price. To meet the growing demands of our society, we spend every waking moment playing catchup with unending tasks and responsibilities, and are bombarded with noise and information at every turn, both online and offline. It’s no wonder then that so many of us have brushes with burnout and feel increasingly detached from the world around us.

Try as we might to seek solace from life’s chaos, it’s not always easy to find some peace in a city that never stops moving. So you could say it was a stroke of luck that brought us to SILK Tea Bar some years ago—a contemporary Chinese teahouse that offers so much more than beverages, drawing us into its warm embrace and keeps us returning time and again to soak up every minute of calm. This time, we’re back again to find out how owners and tea brewers, Melody and Xian, have managed to transform a second-floor shophouse unit in the heart of Chinatown into a welcoming space for anyone willing to, simply, slow down.

It’s a breath of fresh air you’ll feel the moment you push the door open. A soft jingle signalling a transition from the noisy street to a quiet sanctuary, fading away to tunes that dance softly on every surface. The scent of burning incense mixed with freshly brewed tea lingers in the air, and warm lighting provides comfort from the relentless sunlight outside. Handcrafted teaware displayed around the space serve as a reminder of the element that ties everything together: tea.


As we settle down, Xian prepares for the first brew of the day. He picks out a beautiful set of white ceramic teaware and assembles them neatly on a bamboo tray. The teacups are small, the hallmark of the multi-sensory Gong Fu brewing style, to fully bring out the flavours of the tea. Next, Xian boils water and pours it over the tray to rinse and warm the vessels, gently rousing them for the day.

We join him at the table, where Melody keeps herself busy with pre-opening tasks, which include setting the mood with agarwood incense and ambient tunes. It’s a sight familiar to their regulars, since it’s just the young couple running the business, sharing the role of brewing between themselves.

Collecting and brewing traditional tea might not be on the radar for people their age, but it’s a serious interest both Xian and Melody have had long before they met, and it’s this passion that has led them down the path towards being the best they can be in their craft. In their pursuit, they attend weekly meetings with elders and tea merchants, though not without trepidation, even till today, years after they first started. “A lot of times, we are the youngest ones so it’s very pressurising. But the thing about tea is that the result is right in front of you, so you always know how you’ve done,” Melody adds.

When asked how SILK came to be, Xian paints a picture of what the space that now houses their humble teahouse once was—a film studio where he worked for seven years. Although he enjoyed his time, he yearned for a more cultural endeavour, which first led him to Chinese calligraphy. When that didn’t work out, he threw himself into Chinese tea, reading brochures and watching YouTube videos to get started. But it wasn’t until an owner of a tea shop showed him how fragrant green tea could be brewed that he really started to fall in love with the craft.

Later on, their individual journeys of exploration came together through mutual tea friends, gushing over their love of film and passion for tea, and it soon blossomed into a partnership rooted by the philosophy that tea should be shared with anyone with an intention to enjoy it.

Despite this, SILK Tea Bar almost never came to be. The pair confessed that they weren’t initially planning to open a teahouse when they were tossing ideas around. But when the film studio closed, they felt that they couldn’t pass on the opportunity, fearing that the doors to a space like this—situated in the perfect neighbourhood—wouldn’t open again. “In many ways, Chinatown chose us!” Melody declares.

That was back in 2021, during which the challenges of the pandemic, which affected many F&B businesses, inevitably hit them. Although it was tough, a silver lining appeared after the dining restrictions were lifted. Melody points out that people not only had more time on their hands, but also more autonomy due to the restrictions on travelling abroad, and added that they were “willing to spend a little bit more time with themselves in the moment”.

But to invite people to appreciate the millenniums-old tradition is not a simple task. The couple admits that traditional teahouses can seem intimidating, especially to newcomers, with the formal setting of high tables and stiff furniture, not to mention the many invisible rules and etiquette to follow.

So they decided to ground SILK Tea Bar in the concept of what they describe as a friend’s place—a space where customers would feel welcome to sit, stay, and appreciate what’s on the menu; a space where the pair could ideologically and physically connect with the many others for whom tea is a part of life.

“When we started, our furniture was a bit more formal. We thought that in order to serve good Chinese tea, we needed that setting. We wanted to prime people to notice the quality and the flavours,” Melody explains. “In the end, we found our own identity and have since curated the space to reflect just that.”


Once the setup is ready, Xian gathers a handful of loose Yellow Goddess (a type of rock oolong) tea leaves with his prized possession, a unique bamboo scoop laced with intricate markings from a lightning strike. Transferring its contents gently into a teapot, he completes an initial brew to rinse out the leaves, and feeds the discard to his tea pet—it can be anything, really, any object with sentimental value believed to bring good luck the more it’s fed, deepening its patina with each pour like a traceable tea trail. Xian’s is a burnt amber rock that we were shocked to learn was once white, evidence of the numerous brews its been fed over the years.

Almost immediately, a light floral aroma with hints of caramel and malt tickles our noses, encouraging deeper and slower breaths. With a new scent in the air, we watch as Xian expertly pours the tea from the second steep into our teacups, and note how the stream coming out of the spout is perfectly smooth—a sign of a well-made teapot. After all, every single teaware is carefully picked, tailored to their ideals. To them, tea is a universal medium—one that lends itself both socially to deepen conversation, and introspectively to remind ourselves to slow down and relish in the present moment. Essentially, they’ve taken the foundations of traditional Chinese tea brewing and blended in new avenues to remind people of the different dimensions tea can offer.

Apart from their revolving menu, which changes every one to two months, they also offer tea flights, hosted sessions where customers savour different types of tea and learn more about brewing. Their offerings, ranging from intensities, include varieties of red tea, puerh, white tea, the aforementioned rock oolong, and even cold brews for those looking to cool down. After a couple of years of running the teahouse, however, they accepted that they needed to expand their horizons beyond just serving. So they went on to curate complementary experiential programmes with the goal of creating more conversations about tea.

Having held events with multi-disciplinary artists, photographers, and ceramic artists, Melody and Xian have merged these communities and opened new pathways in networks that had once been mutually exclusive. Xian even took it upon himself to make tea more accessible with The Picnic, an art studio that specialises in conceptual experiences, like his latest project in collaboration with fellow tea brewer, artist, and friend from Borneo, Aiwei. To spread the joy and conversations about tea in an unconventional space, they served tea in a van parked in different spots around Singapore. It’s in this deep appreciation they have for other craftsmen that allows for harmonious collaborations; they want to tell their story, and allow for others to do the same.

In another venture, they circled back to their first mutual love: films. SILK Cinema Club was their starting point after Melody came to her own realisation that people who like tea tend to have their own special interests, such as all the little details of a movie. Though there’s no definitive way to prove this theory, it goes to show their shared philosophy of being in the moment; being present to absorb everything your senses pick up, be it in the form of a freshly brewed cup of tea or a riveting film. The pair expresses their wish to host more film screenings at their tea bar, once they manage to find the right balance between the realities of owning a shop and their passion projects. However, it must be said that their determination will keep the fire burning.


Still deep in thought, Xian serves us—in a clockwise direction regardless of seniority—one by one. Before we took the first sip, Melody explains the characteristics of the Yellow Goddess, gushing about its rich flavours and long finish. The tea in our cups still piping hot, the pair then slurp up a small bit of tea, swirl it around in their mouths, take a deep breath in, and swallow. Once their taste buds are primed, they take a fuller sip, never failing to analyse the flavours on their tongues. We follow suit, not quite as naturally, but enjoying the process nonetheless.

Pour after pour, steep after steep, our tea grows darker, its taste morphing with every sip—a chocolatey hint here, an earthy note there—just as Melody said it would. And as our conversation ran on, we began to draw a parallel between the changing nature of tea and the evolution of SILK, from its humble beginnings to the unique space that it is now, so much more than a tea house.

But at the end of the day, tea is still where the brewers’ hearts lie. After experiencing the unfiltered tradition for ourselves, we start to appreciate not just a good cup of tea, but the effort that goes behind every drop, which brings Melody to a very important aspect of tea brewing. “One thing that many non-tea drinkers don’t realise is that there’s a lot of technique involved in tea brewing. But even beyond that, it’s also about the intent. As brewers, having the intention to bring out the best in the tea we serve is very important. The same materials can produce very different outcomes in different hands, and that goes for any craft. Approaching tea brewing with a genuine heart is part of what makes good tea practice,” she declares.

It’s the reason why Xian and Melody have successfully changed the perception that traditions should only be carried out by elders. Sure, there was never any gatekeeping per se, but the truth is that only a handful dared to put themselves in this position; it didn’t matter how young they were, the only thing that mattered was their intention. And through their actions, they want to extend the invitation to join the expanding community of tea brewers, ceramicists, multi-disciplinary artists, and those willing to share their craft with others.

“In Singapore, we always tend to have this concept that culture is tradition, it’s heritage, it’s something fixed. It’s something in the past that we should look back to recreate and acknowledge and uphold,” Melody states. “But actually culture is whatever we keep doing, and we are doing that now. We are drinking. We are sharing the tea. We have a space to share that with everyone else. Chinatown is not the sexiest neighbourhood to move into if you were to say we wanted to attract a younger crowd. But in the end, we have to make the first move.”

Against a backdrop of an ancient practice and the global pandemic, Melody and Xian have not only managed to carve out a space for people to take a breather, but also respected traditions before them and presented it in ways uniquely their own. Everything they’ve curated in the tea house has its purpose. It’s as they said, “Tea exists first. The brewer is just one of the vessels to bring that experience to someone.” It’s that belief that spurs them on, ideating new ways to welcome people in, and share their tea stories. And as tea evolves, so will they, but never too far from tradition. 

“Congratulations, you’ve just tasted good tea.”

SILK Tea Bar
26A Sago Street
Singapore 059021
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