How long have you been in Amsterdam?
I first came to Holland after high school in Hong Kong. I was a creative spirit, I didn’t want to work as a sales girl or in a Chinese restaurant. I travelled many places; I tried England, Germany, America – but it’s Amsterdam that saved me. I was 29 and it was my last shot; I thought, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to Hong Kong.
So it worked out?
Amsterdam is very small, and international. That combination makes it very easy to be daring, because people here will try anything, and they believe in quality. At first I opened a hair salon – my first passion. On the other side of my shop, I had a long table where I served tea. People would come in and sit, make art or paint, and drink my teas. So when I thought about a new career, tea seemed like a natural fit.
What is different about Formocha?
You can buy regular tea everywhere, so it was very clear to me that I wanted to open a high-quality shop, for connoisseurs. I come from Chinese tea money: I learned all about it from my father. Tea is very complicated: you need to know about geography, history, agriculture. It took me five years to open the shop; I invested all my money and travelled all over the world to visit farms and factories, to taste, research and network.
Is your clientele mostly comprised of connoisseurs?
Most of my clients are men. People believe tea is a woman’s drink, but in Asia, tea is traditionally for highly educated men: they get together to discuss business, the economy. That’s why we don’t carry anything too fruity or flowery. Our famous ice tea is a mix of Oolong and black tea, with fresh lemon and mint.
Do you do tea ceremonies?
We can accommodate four people here on Looiersgracht, but our flagship store on Brouwersgracht is like a cultural centre, where we organise many tea events. At the end of April we’ll have our Spring Tea Festival. We serve Chinese and Japanese snacks, such as spicy pecans or delicate vegetable tempura. They go wonderfully with the tea.
Both of your shops are in the Jordaan?
It’s my favourite neighbourhood of Amsterdam, the western part of the canal belt. It’s the best area to walk around, to enjoy all the galleries. It’s great to rent a bike, or event a boat.
What do you like most about Amsterdam?
It’s so open-minded and creative, nobody cares about how you dress – and I like to wear a lot of vintage. In Asian countries they are more uptight about fashion trends.
And what do you not like so much?
In the past couple of years, AirBnB has really killed the housing market, and prices have gone up so much, it’s terribly painful for residents.
Where do you find authentic Chinese food?
For noodles, New King in Chinatown is the best, and Sea Palace and Oriental City have the best dim sun for a quick lunch. For dinner, Taste of Culture on Leidseplein offers a delicious Cantonese fare.
After all this time, Amsterdam must feel like home now?
It always did, in a very natural way. I am an Amsterdammer.