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.
When I finally got to chat with Andrew Cutcliffe at his Tippity stall at the Melbourne Tea Festival, it was my second go at wading through the throng to get my cup within range of the tasting pots. On tasting Tippity‘s Red Chai, I was immediately galvanised to push into the crowd more earnestly. I may have used my elbows.
Once we were chatting, I realised Andrew looked like he was about to fall over with fatigue. He’d got up at 4am to be at the opening of the Festival. ‘I pretty much slept for a week after that’, he said to me later. ‘I lost my voice for two days – for the first time in my life I lost my voice’. Given the jostling crowd surrounding his stall firing a myriad of questions at him, I’m not surprised. It turns out the lost voice was worth it – Tippity signed up three new stockists and two cafes; a bumper haul.
So how does an actor become a tea merchant?
A couple of weeks later, Andrew explains to me just how his life trajectory led him to that moment at Melbourne’s convention centre. Andrew has worked for years in the hospitality industry, but first and foremost he’s an actor (‘acting is my bread and butter’). It was an acting job that took him to Japan and which, literally, changed his life-course. While shooting in Tokyo for five months he fell in love with the language, the food, the culture, and most importantly the Japanese approach to tea. ‘The Japanese do everything exceptionally well, they take everything to a new level, but especially tea. I still don’t completely understand why I am so attracted to Japan. I think part of it is that they so carefully pick what they take from other cultures – they’re not a sell out culture’.
Andrew speaks enthusiastically of ‘Kaizen’, the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement, and also ‘Wabisabi’, the Japanese approach to aesthetics. ‘The Japanese approach everything so carefully’, he tells me.
Unquenched thirst for tea in Australia
The money accumulated from his Japanese acting job allowed Andrew and his wife, Courtney, to start up Tippity three years ago. Since that moment, the business has grown exponentially. ‘It was supposed to be a side hobby, and it’s just growing and growing’. Tippity now has now has five staff, including his dad who has come out of retirement to lend a hand!
I asked Andrew what he attributes Tippity‘s success to. ‘Good quality, design and ethics’, he says. ‘Although we’ve not done any market research, I think it’s about us not cutting corners. We ensure high quality, we maintain an aesthetic approach and we’ve built in a philanthropic aspect through One Percent for the Planet (an international organisation whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual net profit to environmental causes). Andrew’s heading to Sri Lanka later in the year to tour the plantations and is planning to talk first hand to the plantation workers about their needs.
This surprising blossoming of his enterprise made me wonder out loud about the state of the tea industry in Australia. Andrew tells me, ‘There is a real hunger for tea, but the market is nowhere near mature. There’s lots of start-up, boutique-y companies but Tippity is still flying under the radar’.
If there is time to read?
I just had to ask Andrew about his favourite book. Delightfully, it is ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go, by Dr Seuss. ‘I don’t usually tell people that because they laugh, but its true!’, he explains. ‘The subtext in Seuss’ books is just so rich. He gets humanity more than any other writer’. Andrew also mentions Life Is So Good by George Dawson (‘its written by this 101 year old man who learnt to read when he was 98 ‘) and Catcher in the Rye (‘because the way Salinger captures American sensibilities in his books is still resonant now. He totally hit the nail on the head’).
Choosing your last brew
And what would Andrew’s last ever cuppa be? He replies instantly, ‘Midnight White – its a new white tea out of Yunnan in China. I’ve literally only just started stocking it. It’s amazing’.
And as for Tippity’s tea?
As I’ve been bunking down during Melbourne’s chilly winter evenings, I’ve found Tippity’s Chai Chai Chai Red a constant and comforting companion. It comes in a beautiful jar, already steeped with local raw honey. I’ve been brewing it up with soy milk – warming it for around 10 minutes. It gives the kitchen a beautiful fragrance and it’s sweetness and spiciness is perfectly warming.
Someone once suggested to me that Earl Grey tea tastes of dirty dishwater and I haven’t been able to drink it since. So I thought it only fair that people other than me should determine the worthiness of Tippity’s Earl Grey, so I took it into work to share. We sat around at our team meeting daintily sipping our morning Earl Grey. Success! The tea was not only drinkable, but really lovely – the bergamot oil complements the leaves, rather than overpowers them, with none of that strange oiliness you sometimes get. And, I’ve tentatively started drinking Earl Grey again; I am on the road to rehabilitation.
I can also personally vouch for the peppermint tisane and the houjicha through the fact that my stocks are quickly diminishing.
Friends, put aside your Bushells and your Tetley’s. Tippity has nailed the taste and the aesthetics combo, forever solving your tea conundrums. Perhaps pair your cup with a Dr Suess book – we could all do with more tea and more Dr Suess in our lives.
For Sydney-siders, you can catch Andrew (and lots of other amazing tea merchants) at the Sydney Tea Festival this Sunday, 21 August 2016. If you’re even slightly into tea, I can highly recommend this as an outing!