the claypots are well-seasoned, their bottoms blackened by the intense fire they sit atop daily. strong heat is required to bring out the essence of the herbs that boil within, a process that takes 45 minutes to an hour and results in a bitter – but not foul – tea that’s rich in cooling properties. each individual portion of the brackish liquid is sieved and stored in colourful flasks so that when customers come a calling, they can enjoy the tea warm (trust us, a cooled bitter tea is twice as hard to swallow).
this ‘fever tea’ is the signature of poh woh thong, a third generation family-run herbal tea shop in ipoh that began life as a chinese medicine shop. “i’m not trained as a physician and so i couldn’t keep it on as an apothecary,” said francis kan, a former advertising executive in kl who retired 18 years ago and returned to ipoh to take over the reins of pwt with other family members. “so i focused on the ‘fever tea’ and turned pwt into a herbal tea shop instead.”
francis' grandfather had begun the tea nearly 120 years ago and there’s a choice of diuretic and non-diuretic versions; the former detoxifies and rids your body of wastes. back then, pwt only sold the prepared blend by the packets and customers would need to boil the tea themselves. the pre-packaged tea is still available, wrapped in plain white paper with pwt’s name printed in chinese letters in red, dietary advice and instructions (in malay and chinese) on how to cook the herbs: start with four bowls of water in a pot, throw in the herbs and let it simmer until the water reduces to one bowl’s worth.
if that sounds like too much work, then just make your way to pwt and drink the freshly boiled tonic on the spot or have it as takeaway. it’s packed with such potent cooling, healing properties that francis promises that if you feel that you’re about to fall sick, one serving of this is all you need to get back on your feet.
at the shop, the tea is served with a piece of chinese olive to counter the bitterness a which, on a scale of 1 to 10, we would rate a 6. it’s not as vile as most bitter teas we’ve tried and in fact, has a ‘golden’ flavour that’s a sign of the good quality and adequate amount of herbs. we tried the tea after two weeks of feasting on curries and fried foods and so were on the verge of a heaty outbreak. the day after downing it, we could feel the build-up subsiding, just as francis promised. not that we had much doubts to begin with, after all you can’t go wrong with century-old wisdom and medicinal know-how.
besides fever tea, pwt also sells other chinese herbal teas such as chrysanthemum, mulberry, sugar cane water chestnut as well as traditional desserts like guai ling gou with homemade fructose, jelly, honeydew and mango sago pudding.
71 jalan theatre, ipoh, perak opens 9.30am-9pm, mon-fri; 9.30am-6pm, sat tel +605 241 5604; poh woh thong’s pre-packed fever tea are also sold at selected minimarkets in ipoh