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‘Tea like my nanna used to drink’

I’ve been drinking Tramtracker tea, by McIver’s Tea and Coffee Merchants, every morning for about 5 months now. I just love it; it’s strong and gutsy and gives me the push out of the door I need.

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 achievea 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.

Teensy Tramtracker 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.

This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.

16 Comments

  1. I’m not a tea-drinker myself but I have fond memories of my nana drinking tea – always a pot on the go, always with the same yellow and blue knitted tea cosy.

  2. I like Catherine Underhill’s attitude! My treat teas are Whittard’s Ceylon Orange Pekoe (£7 for 100g, around AUS$11), Fortnum & Mason’s Queen Anne tea – a blend of Assam & Ceylon (£5.25 for 125g, around AUS$8.50) or Betty’s Blue Sapphire – a Ceylon tea with cornflower petals (£10 for 125g, around AUS$16). Most of the time I drink Sainsbury’s red label (£4 for 160 teabags, around AUS$6.50) because it makes a good strong brew with lots of flavour. And I always enjoy a mug of tea made for me by my husband, partly because it’s been made for me but also because he understands that tea needs to brew.

    I need another brew, now!

    • I love your attention to detail (the currency exchanges) and your ability to list off your favourites. I really like the sound of Betty’s Blue Sapphire; I imagine it’s also very pretty to look at. I spent most of my decade in Glasgow trying to avoid Tetley’s – the absolute worst, but omnipresent.

  3. That just makes me curious. We appreciate tea greatly in this house <3

    • Ah yes… but do you drink it in cafes when you go out? I do, but I don’t like coffee. I am about the only person I know who does though!! (Melbourne is pretty coffee-centric though). Great to find a fellow tea lover.

  4. Wonderful though I’m not a tea fan, but this post made me wants to try and enjoy a cup of tea!! I’m in love with old-fashioned stuff!! Good Luck 🙂

  5. I love old-fashioned strong tea (thanks to my English grandfather) & I’m always glad to find a local supplier. I’ve ordered a bag of Tramtracker & Miner’s tea. Thanks for the review & recommendation.

    • That made my day to read that; I love the thought of someone else loving their tea (I hope you do anyway – let me know!). I’ve not tasted the Miner’s Tea but it on my list for next time I order. I hope to get to their cafe in Brunswick soon….

      • I ordered some Miners & Tramtracker on Weds & it arrived yesterday. I’ve had three mugs of the Miners tea so far & I really like it. I’m always pleased to find a local company to support.

        • That’s great! And I totally get the local company support thing. Melbourne’s great at supporting artisan coffee makers, but hasn’t quite cracked artisan tea blenders (and I haven’t found McIver’s in a single cafe as yet, which is crazy as it’s so comparatively cheap).

          • I don’t drink tea in cafes because I don’t like teabags but if someone would make me a proper pot of McIver’s, I’d become a regular visitor. Until then, I’ll stick to coffee when I’m out!

  6. OMG yes! I didn’t realise until just now, but that’s exactly why I liked McIvers so much! Tea that tastes like actual tea – not cheap imitation rubbish, not overpriced super fancy secret ingredient stuff, just good old fashioned black tea!
    Price point is a massive plus – I wish I’d bought more at the tea festival now!

    • It has totally spoiled me for going into cafes as I know I can get a better cup at home. I did an online order from them a month ago and got a bit carried away. I literally have kilos of their tea in my cupboard (hint: their 500gram packs are bigger than you think they’re going to be!). But at least I’m stocked up til Christmas 2018, if not beyond.

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