‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’: Meeting the tea merchant

This is the first in a series of conversations with modern day tea merchants.  Really, I just want to know why and how people end up in the tea trade – I don’t imagine it’s a choice often offered by careers advisors….

My first chat with a tea entrepreneur is with Andrew Cutcliffe.  As I learn, Andrew’s history as an actor, a hospitality guru and an aficionado of Japan all coalesced to result in the creation of his tea company, Tippity.

OD-ing on tea at the Melbourne Tea Festival

I asked myself a question recently; a question that every human being really ought to ask themselves at least once in their lifetime:  is it possible to drink too much tea? The answer to this essential question is: yes, but only in extenuating circumstances.  An extenuating circumstance might look a little like this.

Recently, I forsook my Sunday morning ritual of porridge and yoga and negotiated weekend public transport to arrive at my very first ever tea festival at 10am, sharp.  At 1.30pm, I staggered from my first ever tea festival, with a belly full of tea and very little else.  My teeth were gritty and coated in tannins, my mouth was dry and I felt strangely jittery. I had spent three and a half hours solidly tasting tea. That is, undoubtedly, an extenuating circumstance. And I loved every minute of it.

For those who’ve never had the pleasure of visiting a tea festival, let me describe it for you.

Taking tea in autumn, 1906-style

You know those moments where you’re starving and need some lunch, but you want to take advantage of the lovely sun, and you have two small boys with boundless energy who need to be occupied. And then, you find a cafe that miraculously caters for all these needs.  So it was with Est 1906, in Seddon, Melbourne.

We had an almost spiritual moment on entering Est. 1906 when we realised that the courtyard outside had a small plastic cubby house in the corner. It’s not like these facilities can compete with Inflatable World, but it signals loudly and clearly, ‘children are welcome here…  even your children’.

Tea facts that surprise and discomfit

Here are three tea facts and my personal resolution.

Question:  In the mid-nineteenth century, which country drank the most tea on a per capita basis?

Answer:  Surprisingly, Australia. The Brits overtook the Australians during the 1900s, although Aussies remained the second highest consumers of tea per capita globally until the late 1940s.  Apparently this Australian tea obsession was to do with cleaving to notions of British civility and impressing social order within the colonial outpost.

Jenier World of Teas

If you go on to the Lipton Tea website, it tells you in small print that ‘Tea is not a substitute for fruits or vegetables, which provide a wide range of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Please consult your doctor regarding a diet/nutritional plan that is right for you’. I wonder if wine has the same confined nutritional value? Surely not…

Meanwhile I had to go to Wikipedia to confirm a ghost of a rumour; that Thomas Lipton was a Glaswegian. Raised in the Gorbals he finished his life as a Knight Commander of the Victorian Empire.  He is buried in our Necropolis; I may need to make a pilgrimage.