Born and raised in Hong Kong with a PhD in Food Science from the University of Nottingham, Natalie Chiu has been exposed to two cultures that celebrate tea as an essential part of their cultural identity, which also paved the way for her new venture: Saicho sparkling teas. In 2019, Natalie launched Saicho together with her husband Charlie Winkworrth-Smith in the United Kingdom before bringing the brand to Hong Kong. Now, she is working with renowned sommeliers, hoteliers and chefs, serving Saicho at the dining tables of The Dorchester, Darjeeling Express, Nobel Hotel Portman Square and the Grand Hotel Birmingham.
Natalie Chiu’s story about Saicho:
The story of Saicho began with my husband, Charlie, whom I met during my PhD. Charlie and I were enjoying a delicious pairing menu at a restaurant and the sommelier came over to describe the wine that my husband was enjoying with his meal. He shared its country of origin, the terroir, the production techniques and why it paired well with the dishes. Meanwhile, I sat with the same glass of water throughout the meal, missing out on the full experience, as I have an intolerance to alcohol. At this moment, I realised there was a gap in the market.
At that time, there were no non-alcoholic drinks that paired well with food, or that had a comparable complexity of flavour or any noteworthy origin. Given my background and experience in both Hong Kong and the UK, I knew there was huge potential in tea to create something exceptional. Hence, with the support of my husband, we began cooking up the idea for a sparkling tea that creates a new dimension to food pairing without the need for alcohol.
Over two years, we tried hundreds of different teas, until we narrowed our search down to our three favourites: Jasmine, Darjeeling and Hojicha. We chose these teas, as they showcase the incredible variety of flavour that tea can offer, from floral to fruity, nutty to smoky, candied to umami – all dependent on the variety, terroir and production method. The complex and nuanced profiles of these teas make them the perfect accompaniment to food. For our first drinks, we were also keen to select teas from the major tea producing regions that, we believe, are most iconic: China, India and Japan. During the selection and production process, we also found that by cold brewing the tea leaves, we could extract the most delicate aromatics without over-extracting the bitter and astringent compounds, to produce a clean, crisp, and complex flavour profile. We also discovered that by sparkling the drinks, the natural aromatics of the tea are enhanced, which lets their unique flavours shine and creates a sense of occasion.
Saicho can be enjoyed in a fine dining restaurant, at a wine bar or at home with friends and family and is best served chilled in a Champagne glass, ideal for luxurious, but light lunches, paired dinners, or as the perfect accompaniment to an upscale afternoon tea.
We work closely with our suppliers and tea farmers to source the highest quality single origin teas from around the world. As founders, it is important for us to be transparent with our customers, which is why we also added the coordinates of the tea region where we source each tea and collaborated with an exceptionally talented artist who created beautifully ornate label designs which showcase the national bird of each tea’s country of origin.
I know that I am not alone in suffering from alcohol intolerance and believe that the UK’s tea drinking culture and love for discovering new food and drink, as well as increased interest in low alcohol or more health conscious alcohol alternatives means that Saicho is a great choice for discerning drinkers. I hope that customers will be impressed by Saicho’s unparalleled flavour which elevates every dining and drinking occasion without the need for alcohol.
Online shop: www.saichodrinks.com
Instagram: @saichodrinks / @saichohk
Facebook: @saichodrinks / @saichohk