[UPDATE: The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan has teamed up with local farmers to help save Bali’s bees and produce its own honey for use in the resort. The two Sayan hives (with thatch-roofs and roof-top entries, design of the resort’s pool villas) are tended by chef Liam Nealon who has beekeeping. And the initiative is part of Indonesia’s first bee conservation and community enterprise program, Plan Bee Indonesia. The Wild Sayan Honey harvested from the two hives is supplemented with honey from the Plan Bee farmers’ co-operative for use in food, cocktails, cooking classes and the spa.]
“Is there honey still for tea?”* There is if you go to the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong before the end of July . The hotel’s Lounge & Bar is offering a Honey Bee Afternoon Tea in collaboration with Bee’s Nest, the only honey maker on Hong Kong island. Among the teatime treats are traditional scones served with clotted cream and raw honey and a nod to Hong Kong with steamed milk custard topped with honey jelly – a twist on the traditional Cantonese dessert.
The honey is the first batch produced by the hotel’s beehive at Bee’s Nest farm in Tai Tam reservoir. In keeping with the Ritz Carlton group’s quest to support local businesses and environmental issues, the hotel has adopted a beehive there. Tours with one of the founders – Hong Kong beekeeper Gordon Yan and chefs Cedric Alexandra (previously of TWG) and Patrick H Zepho (ex Roka) – can be arranged for hotel guests.
Having set up Bee’s Nest three years ago, the team now has 100 hives and is expanding to 500 next season. As well as being organic (currently the only certified organic honey in Hong Kong) their nectar is mono-floral. Bees at their apiary pollinate from a single flower rather than several, resulting in a more intense taste and aroma.
Bee’s Nest’s colony feast on three types of flowering plant: ivy – an evergreen tree native to Hong Kong from which a medium coloured and fragrant honey is produced, longan (which results in a dark coloured, very sweet tasting honey) and lychee (light coloured and tangy in flavour).
Pastry chef Richard Long has used the longan honey to glaze walnuts on top of mini blue cheese tarts as well as adding it to dark chocolate pralines as he says the fruitiness works well with the richness of both. The ivy flower honey features in a custard filling for Bee Sting Cake – created by executive chef Peter Find as the sponge is a speciality of his homeland Germany and the ivy honey a taste of Hong Kong.
“Our location in Tai Tam reservoir has an abundance of ivy trees so it’s very difficult for other bee farms in Hong Kong to produce a winter ivy honey as distinctive as ours,” says Patrick Zepho.
Unlike in mass produced farms, Bee’s Nest honey is collected from the hives every seven to eight days. “Each beekeeper has his own personality and method to produce honey that will affect its quality,” says Zepho. “Gordon has learned the trade the traditional way (few beekeepers use this method now) to ensure the highest grade. It is a much longer process that requires breaking down the harvest in steps to remove as much of the moisture as possible which results in a more concentrated flavour and creamy texture.”
Beekeeping is creating a buzz in hotels throughout Asia. The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong plans to keep honey harvested from its adopted hive on the menu for either breakfast, or the lunch and dinner buffets on a continual basis. And The Intercontinental has reintroduced its rooftop beehives. Following on from two years ago when unfortunately the bees did not survive the cold winter and heavy rains, three new beehives have been installed.
“This time we are using a bee farming concept with planter boxes where the bees can pollinate rather than the bees needing to fly within a 5 km radius for food as they did last time,” says a spokeswoman for the Intercontinental Hong Kong which is working in conjunction with the Beekeeper Association of Hong Kong.
The hotel has also set up nine hives at its own garden within the New Life Farm in the New Territories. First harvest of the rooftop honey is expected at the end of this month [June] and there are plans to incorporate both honey batches in some way in the hotel’s F&B outlets from September.
Over on the south west coast of Cambodia, at Song Saa island resort, the strongly flavoured honey served at its restaurants is sourced from the north of the country in Mondulkiri province. “Mondulkiri honey is very famous in Cambodia because only in north Cambodia do we still have strong jungle and forest,” says food & beverage manager Chenda Nem. “And the [beekeepers] always produce real honey, they never mix their honey with any syrup.”
The countryside of northern Thailand also provides rich pickings for bees and subsequently honey making. The Four Seasons Chiang Mai has an impressive selection of locally produced honey on its breakfast buffet.
“Our honey is not bought in bulk from industrial distributors but hand created by local beekeeping tribes in the surrounding forests, using a distinct species of regional bees,” says a Four Seasons spokesman. By sourcing honey this way, the Four Seasons is also helping ensure the tribes’ trade stays alive.
Depending on the time of year, the honey bears the flavour of flowering plants in the area such as rambutan, sunflower, sesame, sabsua, longan or lychee. “Our selection is based on seasonal availability with the honey being brought fresh from the farm to the resort,” say executive chef Stephane Calvet.
“Wild flowers honey is typically fresh and aromatic with a liquid texture and matches very well with plain yoghurt. Longan honey is more refined with a runny texture and is a perfect match to goat’s cheese. Lychee honey is slightly bitter with a thick texture; it matches very well with Thai food.”
The Fairmont hotel group has developed a Honey Bee sustainability programme, designating some properties Honey Bee Hotels including two in China, to both help the environment and provide honey for its guests. The Fairmont Beijing purchases honey from Shangrila Farms which has apiaries in Yunnan province and teaches locals in rural villages the skill of beekeeping.
At the Fairmont Yangcheng Lake in Kunshan beehives have been installed on the hotel’s namesake lake. The hives are tended by a local, highly experienced beekeeper whose brought in wild bees from the West Mount in nearby Suzhou.
“The bees we keep are an Italian breed not local Chinese,” says the hotel’s general manager Jeff Cheng. “They are larger and less sensitive than Chinese bees which means they come out of hibernation and begin harvesting honey earlier, in late March or early April, when the outdoor temperature reaches 12 c.”
The 2,500 bees thrive on the hotel’s 200 acre organic and vegetable garden. In good weather conditions, they can produce up to 50 kg of honey a day in peak season which is used in desserts and entrees at the hotel’s restaurants and also bottled for sale.
“The taste of their honey varies over the season, according to nature’s flowering,” says Cheng. “In early springtime, their honey is light and coloured with the overwhelming fragrance of spring flowers. But I personally prefer the light perfume fragrance of petite chrysanthemum during May. Honey in September and October when Osmanthus blossoms is also delightful. It has a faint and refreshing scent with the distinctive fragrance of Osmanthus and goes perfectly with Chinese pastries and cakes.”
The hotel’s pastry team has created a version of the local Steamed Rice Cake, made without sugar, and served warm with Osmanthus honey. “It really is heavenly for afternoon tea,” Cheng says.
*With apologies to Rupert Brooke