Friday, 23 April 2010

Tea for Two at The Snooty Fox

The other week I took a trip with Pippin, my brother (who has been having a well-deserved holiday from work) and Lucky Pinky Dots up the Mountain Highway to have morning tea at The Snooty Fox. It was a lovely cool and overcast day, my preferred weather for trips to the Dandenongs (perverse, I know).

Pippin was a bit cranky about the whole thing unfortunately, but Pinky Dots was right on the ball when it came to diving into the scones (which were really delicious) with cream and raspberry jam:

I was a bit disappointed to find that the tea was just Twinings tea bags (we shared a big pot of Earl Grey), especially when Tea Leaves is only about 10 minutes' drive away... but what the heck, it was a great chance to catch up with my brother and (if I didn't already mention it) the scones were exceptionally good...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Wishlist Wednesday - Finely Flavoured

I don't often drink flavoured teas these days - it's not really necessary with so many amazing flavours in tea just on its own, and of course I drink my own blends but they're not really 'flavoured' in the sense of having flavouring essences added, just herbs and spices - but every now and then I feel like having a cup or two.

Here are three delicious sounding ones I'd like to savour...

Amaretto by The Tea Centre: black tea with almond essence and finely diced almond pieces.

Capris Peach-Flavoured Green Tea by SanTion House of Tea: green tea with Chinese flowers and natural peach flavour.

White Berry Bliss from Tea Party: silver tips, white tea and berries.

What are your favourite flavoured teas? Love to hear about them!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Behind the Cup... with Eric from Tea Finely Brewed

I can think of few better ways to kick off the week than with an interview with Eric Daams, the tea aficionado behind Tea Finely Brewed. I was lucky enough to meet fellow-Melbournite Eric in person a couple of months ago (over some tea of course) and it was great to hear about his experiences with tea, blogging and family life. Tea Finely Brewed encompasses a tea blog, a tea marketplace which allows you to compare similar offerings from different tea companies, and a 'beginner's guide to tea' with much useful information.

How did you become enthused about tea and what is it that you like most about it?
I think the thing that most excites me about tea today is the breadth of variety. You could try a new tea every week for a year and you'd still be scratching the surface. 

To begin with though, I think my motivation for liking tea had something to do with that dark force of the hot beverage world: coffee. I'm someone who likes to do things differently to those around me, so as the youngest boy growing up in a family of coffee drinkers, I decided to become a tea drinker. After years of tea bags in which I slowly exhausted the supermarket choices, I started venturing into loose leaf teas a few years ago. Once you start on loose leaf tea, the world (of tea) opens up to you. 

How would you define Australian ‘tea culture’ based on your experience and observations? Have you noticed any changes over time (including your own tea preferences) and what do you think has driven these changes?
For a country with such a vibrant coffee culture, it's sad to see how the Australian tea experience languishes behind. It never ceases to confound me how a café serving amazing coffee can serve their tea-drinking patrons Lipton or Twinings tea bags -- while charging us $3.50 it! 

The emergence of T2 and other Australian-based loose leaf tea brands seems to be a sign of change. I'm not crash hot on T2 — I think they're overpriced and capitalizing on a market that is barely aware of quality tea — but I do believe that they're a harbinger of better things to come. 

Any thoughts on the direction that tea is headed?
I think tea culture is going to boom in much the same way that coffee culture has boomed in Australia. At the moment, I can think of a handful of restaurants where I could go to have quality tea with my lunch -- they're all Asian restaurants, of course. With time, I believe we'll see that spread into more and more places. 

When I was in New Zealand about a year and half ago, I noticed that quite a few of the cafés offered a great range of teas. How often do you go to an Australian café where they offer sencha, dragonwell and gunpowder green tea? Give it ten years, and I think we'll have more places like that around. 

What do you think the greatest challenges are for Australian tea consumers and/or businesses? e.g. is it easy for you to find the kinds of teas you enjoy in Australia or do you mostly purchase from vendors in other countries?
One of the perks of blogging about tea is that a lot of companies send me their tea, free of charge. I'm thankful for that, because if I didn't have companies sending me their teas, I would be severely limited by what is available on the market here. I've shopped at Tea Leaves, Lupicia and T2 (among many others), but the choice of high quality specialty tea is invariably limited. Shops cater to what the majority are looking for, which seems to be flavoured teas and herbal blends. Single-estate Darjeelings, first flush Japanese greens and quality aged pu-erh -- these kinds of teas aren't big priorities. That said, I'm pleased to see Santion catering to the discerning tea crowd that knows their Keemun from their Yunnan.   

Any other tea musings you would like to share.
Champagne is the Darjeeling of wine.

Heh. Thank you Eric for putting the proper relationship between tea and wine in perspective. I am in awe of the amount of work you have put into your tea marketplace - it will be extremely useful for all the tea purchasers out there when they are looking for the pick of the crop!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I'm so high maintenance, II

Last night I put the kettle on to boil (I now have a stovetop glass kettle - technically actually a coffee pot, but I just use it for boiling water without the coffee-percolating bit in it - my parents don't use it any more; genuine vintage, it's about 40 years old) but then discovered that I needed to take Pippin upstairs to change and try and settle him, so I asked my husband to just turn the stove off one the kettle came to a boil.

A couple of minutes later:

My husband (peeking round the door of the baby's room, mouthful of cake): What exactly did you want me to do with the kettle once it boiled?
Me (I regret to say, slightly irritated, jiggling a teary baby): Um, just turn it off??
My husband: Oh! I thought that's what you said, but then I thought it couldn't be quite so simple!

Oh dear... I really must be high maintenance...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Wishlist Wednesday - Fancy Pants Afternoon Tea in Melbourne

...afternoon tea was quite a feature of Bertram's. It was nothing less than splendid. ... There were large crested silver trays, and Georgian silver teapots. The china, if not actually Rockingham and Davenport, looked like it. The Blind Earl services were particular favourites. The tea was the best Indian, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Lapsand, etc. As for eatables, you could ask for anything you liked - and get it! -- Agatha Christie, At Bertram's Hotel

Sometimes there's just nothing you want more than a fancy-pants afternoon tea... Here are some I'd like to try out...

High Tea at The Tea Room at the National Gallery of Victoria International on St Kilda Road (they have Larsen and Thompson teas, yum!) giving you the opportunity to be artsy as well.

Afternoon Tea at The Windsor Hotel, Spring St.

Tiffin Afternoon Tea at The Langham, Southbank (the Chocolate Indulgence one sounds pretty good...)

Check out High Tea Society for more luscious locations!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Behind the Cup... with Monika from SanTion House of Tea

A little while ago I purchased some samples (including the Keemun I was so enthused about) of different teas from SanTion House of Tea, a fairly new player on the Australian tea scene, and have been very impressed with their quality. This week I am very pleased to be able to post an interview with Monika from SanTion. 

What inspired you to get into tea, both as a drink and as a business? How long has SanTion been in business?

I discovered ‘real’ tea about two years ago when meeting Taoist Master Dong Yang. This was the time in my life when I felt the need for spiritual guidance. It was a lucky charm to discover that there is a real Taoist Master in Sydney. Together with a couple of friends I immediately got in touch with Master Dong Yang, and began the training. We were taught that certain exercises, music, calligraphy, wei chi, painting and drinking tea help improve the internal energy level and overall health. Master Dong Yang would brew tea while discussing important issues. In fact, he would drink tea all day long adjusting only strength of the brew and matching the sort of tea to the time of the day. Drinking tea, for him, was just like meditation.

These meetings introduced the world of tea to me and my friends. This was the first time that we have tasted and appreciated Dragon Well, Da Hong Pao and many other marvellous teas. We discovered that tea can bring one back to nature, help become more peaceful and relaxed, escalate feelings of joy and happiness. We found out that with a cup of tea in hand one can experience a touch of pure nature while surrounded by everyday life. One can feel the fresh breeze coming form the mountains, smell the aroma of an ancient forest, sense a touch of softness under the feet. The world transforms.

We have also discovered that one needs to be careful when choosing the right tea and that it is easy to go astray. Not all teas have these transforming world abilities. We have decided to go straight to the source – China. We wished to find the gate to a precious ‘tea garden’. We departed from Sydney on the 1st of May 2009 into a trip of tea discovery. We discovered many unique teas and decided to not only buy it for ourselves and our friends, but also to bring it to the wide public.

Santion commenced its operation in August 2009. We are a very young company and we are trying hard to establish our position on the market because we believe we are bringing something of genuine value.

How did you decide on the 'focus' for SanTion in terms of the types of tea that you carry?

It was very difficult for us to decide on the sorts of tea we carry.

On one hand we knew that Australians love their blends and flavoured teas. We knew that SanTion will be more successful if we offer teas that will match palates of most of our potential customers. On the other hand, we always wanted to educate people about unblended and unflavoured tea.

In the end, we decided for the latter - to concentrate mostly on high quality, loose leaf tea and educate customers and friends of how wonderful ‘pure’ tea experience may be. Profit and business success is secondary to this goal of ours. Despite that, we also imported some naturally flavoured teas and a few blends for those of our customers who are just starting on their way to tea discovery and are not quite ready to go ‘all the way’.

How would you define Australian ‘tea culture’ based on your experience and observations? Have you noticed any changes over time (including your own tea preferences) and what do you think has driven these changes?

For some of us tea is just an alternate for coffee. Most of the times - a small bag dipped into water and often infused with milk, lemon or sugar. For others it may be an iced drink, nice and refreshing in hot summer days. For a few it is a way to healthy lifestyle, source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Finally, only some people are truly passionate about tea. Those passionate enough are able to create a truly unique tea experience.

Australia is now amongst those countries that pride themselves for ‘coffee culture’ rather than tea culture. Most cafes still offer only tea bags as these are much more convenient. Cafes and restaurants offer only a few, most popular varieties: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Peppermint, Camomile etc. The reason for this is simple – no demand for more and no tea-educated customers. For Australians White Tea still means a black tea with milk!

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the future for tea in Australia is brighter than ever. Australians are very health-conscious and quality-oriented. Tea sales grow from year to year.

Tea is healthy, fashionable and affordable – more and more people acknowledge the fact. ‘Tea Culture’ is coming. It is now just a matter of time.

Any thoughts on the direction that tea is headed?

Tea lovers are becoming more and more sophisticated. I believe that whilst interest in tea blends and flavoured teas will always be there, over the next few years we will also observe increasing interest in unblended and unflavoured teas prepared in the traditional, oriental way.

As far as the distribution channels are concerned, 2010 Tea Market Forecast by Joseph Simrany and Pearl Dexter of states: “Tea is in, it is trendy, relevant and continually attracting an ever-expanding group of avid and knowledgeable consumers, most of who are gaining that knowledge via the Internet. Tea companies of course are still using traditional advertising vehicles including TV, radio, print and direct marketing but they are increasingly turning to non-traditional marketing vehicles such as; websites, blogs, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and now the iPhone”.

As interest in tea grows, the need for tea knowledge increases. Over the next few years we will witness growing number of visitors on tea-related websites and blogs. Visitors will be looking not only for tea, but also for information on tea preparation and brewing, tea philosophy, tea history, tea health benefits etc.

What do you think the greatest challenges are for Australian tea businesses and/or consumers?

The greatest challenge for customers is to open up for a quality product by educating themselves about tea. It is important to savour and experience a wide variety of teas to get to know which tea sorts and varieties suit them best.

The greatest challenge for tea businesses, especially the smaller ones is to find their way through the slower period which we are encountering at present. Customers are still not aware of how to judge a good quality product and therefore often settle on cheap alternatives offered by international corporations or supermarkets. This way most of us never have the chance to discover the ‘real’ tea and small businesses don’t have the chance to get the recognition they deserve.

It is also important for the Australian tea market to find a healthy balance between quality and price. As per now, too often do we observe very low quality tea sold at tremendous prices only because of a smart marketing campaign.

Any other tea musings you would like to share?

For SanTion, tea is primarily a lifestyle, secondarily a product. Tea is there to enjoy it! Our advise is to treat tea health benefits as a side effect.

Thank you very much Monika for your thoughtful and inspiring responses. It is very exciting to have a company like SanTion operating in Australia and I wish you every success.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Trying to capture a moment of beauty

Leaves fall through water
Slowly spinning as they sink
Like weary dancers

I'm not much of a photographer... this was the best I could do to try and capture the exquisite grace of Huang Shan Mao Feng leaves brewing in my glass teapot.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Joie de Tea is featured on Calico & Co!

Thanks very much to Amanda for featuring me on her gorgeous design blog Calico & Co - you can read the interview here!

Hope you have all had a lovely Easter... I am not sure which I have had more of... chocolate or tea. Tea may be slightly in front. Or so I hope.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Behind the Cup... with The Devotea

The first interviewee for 'Behind the Cup' is Robert Godden, aka The Devotea. One tea-related site is not enough for him; he has a video blog, a 'teaconomics' blog, and also designs tea shirts (how good is that?).

How did you become enthused about tea and what is it that you like most about it? 
I come from a tea drinking family, but that means Lipton’s tea bags I’m afraid. I do remember every so often getting ‘real’ tea at an ‘eccentric’ aunt’s place. I married into an English family, which meant more tea bags, millions of them.

Over the years, my cooking went from sauces in jars to making my own, and tea more or less went down the same path. I love the extra time it takes – you feel you are contributing to the quality of the end product. Take your time and make it with care, and the care is rewarded in the cup. I feel the same way about coffee, but only drink 1-3 per week, whereas I drink 6-12 cups of tea.

A few years ago, we bought a tea shop, and the venture did not last. But being around 162 teas bought me into contact with a whole new community, and once I got on-line, that’s just grown immensely. I used to laugh at my kids for having all these “friends” they’d never met, but now I’m the biggest Twitterer of the lot. For centuries tea has connected people across a table, and now it does so across the world.

How would you define Australian ‘tea culture’ based on your experience and observations? Have you noticed any changes over time (including your own tea preferences) and what do you think has driven these changes?

The Australian tea culture is quite prominently tea bag driven, to the extent where Bushells ads actually seem to suggest you’re not a real Aussie if you like good tea in a nice cup. Our shop had 162 teas and 40 coffees. Both were outstanding quality. On that same block were 7 other coffee shops; yet we sold 95% coffee. Often tea was “English Breakfast” when it was consumed.
The small but vibrant group of tea lovers, though, was a very determined group. You’d see 5 blokes with long blacks and a guy the end with a Wild Cherry Green Sencha, and they’d be giving him a hard time; but nothing would stop his enjoyment of the tea.

Lately I’ve strayed much more into greens and whites, and I think that reflects tea consumers as a whole. I get mildly annoyed at people who prattle on about health benefits – just enjoy the tea, and why not have that biscuit?

Any thoughts on the direction that tea is headed?

It’s clear that quality tea is undergoing a massive resurgence ion the US. It will be a shame if we end up getting “tea culture” coming back to us via US movies and TV, but whatever it takes. It does seem that tea drinkers in the US are far fussier that US coffee drinkers, which is a great thing.
For me, the real worry is that quality tea plantations are being ripped out or taken over by multinationals with little interest in quality. I hope the counter to this is that new plantations, dedicated to quality, spring up as the value of great tea rises through demand.

 What do you think the greatest challenges are for Australian tea consumers and/or businesses?
It’s impossible to go into a supermarket and buy real quality tea. The best you can hope for is a fair quality CTC black. It’s all about effort – you have to make the effort to find the tea, then the effort of making it. I’ve never bought tea on-line. I like to poke, prod, smell and feel tea before I buy it. I buy the best tea I can from whatever is in front of me. I realised that tea bags in the house – basically tea with training wheels – need to be gotten rid of before you really make a commitment to tea.

As far as businesses, it’s a hard call. In Adelaide’s Deep South, where I live, there’s one shop that has about 40 teas. Now, some of them are a little stale – probably because I’m the only person that has bought them in a long while. I feel for them, and I have given them a deservedly good review and try to promote them.

I think one issue is that the difference between the quality of tea from a bag versus real loose leaf tea is not as obvious as say, instant coffee versus a cappuccino. So when people go out, they have a cap because it’s so much better than what they can make at home.

And I think we should support Australia’s three tea growers. But they need to engage more with the discerning consumer. I’ve actively tried to contact them all with no response.

Any other tea musings you would like to share?
I can’t drink a cup of tea without having at least one of these thoughts:
• Who picked this tea, and what is their life like?
• When did I last have this, and who was I with?
• Why was I stressed a few minutes ago? I now have tea and the world is a better place.

Thank you so much Robert - I really appreciated your thoughtful responses and, as it turns out, we think quite alike on a number of points (especially about the having of biscuits).

I hope to have further Behind the Cup posts to share with you all soon!


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