One morning as I stood staring at the wall waiting for my tea to brew, I thought to myself, ‘just how is this tea so good?’. I resolved at that moment to find out.
So begins my chat with Catherine Underhill, proprietor of McIver’s Tea and Coffee Merchants. We talk for a bit about how she ended up in the tea trade (‘totally by accident’) and the pitfalls of Earl Grey, til I pose the question that’s been circling in my head for months: What is it about Tramtracker that makes it so great?
Catherine explains: ‘The most common request at my tea shop was ‘I want a tea like my nanna used to drink’. So we wanted to create a good, hearty, old-fashioned cup of tea. That’s all we were trying to achieve – a really well-rounded, balanced cup of tea like you would have had in the 50s’.
Can there really be such a gap in the market for tea that tastes like tea?
It would appear so. A similar demand inspired the creation of McIver’s Miner’s Tea. ‘We actually put that one together when Yorkshire Tea changed their business model and decided to go cheap and nasty’.
Apart from it’s taste and it’s whummp factor, Tramtracker is incredibly reasonably priced – $7.00 for 200 grams*. To put it in perspective, 200 grams of tea from T2 (a well-known company in Australia) would cost you from $28 upwards. I ask Catherine, sheepishly, if this is because I have unsophisticated tastebuds:
One of the great furphies of the tea trade is that if it’s not expensive it’s not good. And actually, I think I lose a lot of sales because I don’t put a bigger markup on the tea. My business model has always been that it should be a good product at a good price. A lot of tea companies have a nice product, fabulous packaging, and then, an extraordinary price.
At the mention of ‘fabulous packaging’ and ‘extraordinary price’, our conversation naturally turns to T2. In my opinion T2 is the devil in disguise. It used to be a local Melbourne company and now is owned by the multinational Unilever. Its distinctive shops can be found on almost every corner in the centre of Melbourne, and I wonder why people flock to it when there are so many excellent local tea companies to support.
Catherine puts a positive spin on this: ‘God bless T2; they’ve done all our marketing for us. Because their pricing is so outrageous, when eventually people find us and drink our product they go ‘yes!”. She adds wistfully, ‘But on the other hand, you do see an awful lot of their orange bags wandering around the city….’.
Embracing the tea-geek within, I ask Catherine about the tea’s tiny leaves.
She explains that one of the teas in the Tramtracker is a CTC – a Crush, Tear, Curl tea. ‘People look at these tiny, little granular leaves and think they’re sweepings from the floor but in fact, I think the CTCs in black tea are absolutely the cream of the crop’.
My husband complains – although not too vehemently – that he is discouraged from making me tea as I’m too fussy. Although I don’t like to admit it out loud, it’s true. I don’t really trust anyone to make my tea. Going into a new cafe can make me quite nervous, and I do tend to hover in the kitchen if someone’s been kind enough to offer to make me one. It’s annoying, and I acknowledge that. So I ask Catherine if she has the same issue; does she let other people make her tea? ‘Yeh I do’, she laughs, ‘Because I work with tea people’. Well you would then, wouldn’t you?
Our last bit of chat concerns the recent closure of a beautiful tea house in Melbourne. ‘I understand that perfectly’, Catherine explains, ‘I have a cafe where we sell tea and coffee and people know that I’m a tea blender, yet I would sell 97 coffees for three teas. Unless you’re going out for scones, people think of tea as an at home beverage and coffee as an outside beverage’.
Perhaps if there was a nanna in every cafe making our tea, we’d all be drinking a lot more.
Fancy your own packet of Tramtracker? The first three people who share this post on social media with some commentary about their own nostalgic tea-moments (whether nanna-related or not) will win 200g of this superlative tea.
You can purchase Tramtracker from McIver’s shop at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market or their online store: http://www.mcivers.melbourne
*About US$5.00 for 7 ounces.