Last year when Mafalda and I were at the International Tea Expo, in Melbourne, we were just 6 months into running our own tea business, very ‘green’, but full of hope. We knew we had an uphill battle in regards to being specialty tea focused in our business, but our passion was unwavering which was a common attitude among many of our tea comrades.
On the 2nd day, The Australian Tea Masters held a workshop run by Nathan Johnston, of Cartel Coffee Roasters, entitled: “Building a bridge between coffee and tea”- it was an epiphany of sorts for me and it struck a chord, helping to shape the path we have taken.
30 years ago, when the specialty coffee scene was in its infancy, most people drank tea and would, maybe, have instant coffee in the cupboard. Unless you were fortunate enough to have some sort of connection to Europe or South America, then you might have a percolator or French press. Fast forward to 2019, the coffee scene has exploded and settled in Australia. With huge events, competitions, trade magazines and much more. Being a barista is now a full-fledged career, and specialty businesses are on every corner and in every major city.
If you step into one of these specialty businesses, you will meet passionate and knowledgeable people. The coffee these baristas serve has been grown and processed with a lot of skill, care and attention to detail, the journey undertaken from the plantation to roastery and finally to your cup, is controlled meticulously. They are then, presented to the customer with incredibly detailed background stories of how, where and why, along with flavor profile notes and all-encompassing passionate knowledge of the product.
Tea, on the other hand, is commonly an afterthought. Often what is offered (even in some high-end establishments) is a tea bag or some other low-quality supermarket commodity product. There is no skill required to serve and sell bad tea, there is no knowledge, origin story nor passion to go the extra mile, either. As a result, there is no appreciation nor value for the whole service, and the customer knows and feels this..
So, where to from here? Specialty coffee has set the standard and the path. Now, specialty tea just needs to follow in its footsteps and emulate that road map to success. To do this, we need to show true tea’s value and complexity to the top coffee professionals, restaurateurs and sommeliers, not only to change perceptions but to create ambassadors for this incredibly versatile product.
HIGH-QUALITY TEA BRINGS AUTHENTICITY TO SPECIALTY BUSINESSES
There is an obvious lack of continuity in the standard of ‘quality’, within the specialty scene in Australia,( tea being the elephant in the room). But there is hope! Slowly but surely, we ’ve seen more and more businesses, coffee professionals, chefs, and even wine sommeliers, that are beginning to understand how important it is to deliver high-quality, across all boards- in order to be on the top of the game. They are finally coming to the realisation that tea lovers are discerning and demand the same consideration, as everyone else.
Specialty teas change with the seasons, providing different flavors and aromas depending on the time of year and region. This allows businesses to offer rotating seasonal ‘reserve’ and single origin teas, to entice explorative foodies into this new and complex world, and create an ever-changing experience, for their clientele. Adopting the seasonal approach not only gives authenticity to their menu but also caters to the diverse tastes of customers.
Our latest partners ‘Went to see the gypsy’ in Alexandria, have adopted this very concept and the results have been really successful. Simon Gautherin, the head barista and drinks curator for the flagship store, has had loyal tea heads dropping by every day since opening, for some expertly brewed Duck Shit Oolong and Moonlight white tea. Because the staff have a connection and an appreciation for this product they are able to pass this on to the customers through detailed information about where the tea was grown, harvested, and processed, creating an experience which is not soon forgotten. A brilliant case study, for the success of partnering up with coffee professionals and building that bridge.
THE DREADED WORKFLOW ISSUE
Another challenge, apart from general perceptions, is workflow. Often this is the most talked about issue whenever we get into discussions about tea service, with our coffee friends. This is something tea businesses need to take into account, when approaching cafe owners and restaurateurs. The product may be amazing, but if I’m offering a loose leaf product to a high turnover cafe in the CBD, with specific brewing times and temperatures, I need to ask myself- “How can I make this, as painless and fluid as possible, to not only get the best result but also to help the transition to a beautiful range of loose leaf teas?”
Collaboration is the only way forward. We are working closely with our partners to come up with solutions for real-life situations. We also offer training and new brewing tools to help combat these issues- as well to ensure that the teas on offer are brewed and represented in their most expressive form, to each and every customer, without interfering with the flow of work.
We still have an uphill climb, but there is momentum building. We see a future with specialty tea houses that serve specialty coffee, and not just the other way around. We see tea professionals working full-time careers in hospitality, serving, consulting and creating memorable experiences. We see kids enjoying cold brewed specialty tea, instead of soft drinks or sugary juices. We see restaurants offering tea paired degustations and tea menus that are as comprehensive as a fine wine list.
To reach this vision, requires commitment and interplay between industry professionals. At the end of the day, we are all ‘ flavour geeks’ and we all want to elevate the entire industry. So let's begin from there, pour some tea or coffee and let us work together, lets to come up with solutions so that specialty businesses can offer high-quality products across the board which will give authenticity to these specialty businesses, and help to elevate a new industry which has so much potential.