Sarah Cowell is one of Australia's outstanding tea experts. She was the original tea sommelier at restaurant, Vue de Monde, one of the founders of the Australiasian Specialty Tea Association, and also runs tea classes and workshops through her business Teasense. She is a true tea soul and leaf whisperer. We are lucky to have her give her thoughts to the Tea&Sympathy blog on the state of the tea market in Australia, and the emerging class of tea geeks and connoisseurs.
There has never been a better time to drink tea in Australia. Despite swinging from a staunchly tea-drinking nation to one that is somewhat obsessed with coffee, we now have access to incredible tea and tea knowledge that simply wasn’t available to us back when tea drinking was the norm.
What is changing and why? The Australian market is becoming more educated and sophisticated with regards to tea. The bar has been raised across the spectrum of food and beverages; we have experienced more, and we are expecting more. Great wines, excellent coffee, wonderful food; our palates are primed for quality – and we notice it when it is absent.
Specialty cafes are no longer prepared to serve teabags alongside their single-origin, artisanally roasted coffee. Consistency of quality is the catch-cry – from organic milk and panela sugar on the tables – to serving loose leaf tea in a pot; in a competitive market, attention to detail is essential for success. There is an emerging trend of good baristas coming to tea classes, hungry to learn about the origins, processing and brewing for tea as well as for coffee.
In addition, more Australians are travelling to Asia and experiencing tea ceremonies with green, oolong and pu’erh teas – and are returning home curious to learn more.
The market is responding to the increasing demand of consumers with their sophisticated palates, with wider offerings of higher quality tea - both on café menus and by tea companies. Quite a few new tea companies are emerging and the good news is that most of these are set up as small businesses by people passionate about tea – which means you will be able to get great tea from knowledgeable, reputable locals.
In the past two years, tea classes have started to emerge and are being taken up with gusto. From Tea and Cheese pairing with Tea&Sympathy, to Teasense Tea 101 classes – or even a course with Australian Tea Masters to become an accredited tea sommelier! – there has never been a better time to learn about tea also.
Speaking of tea sommeliers, few people realise that there is actually a dedicated, full-time tea sommelier working at one of Australia’s top restaurants, Vue de Monde. His role is to match and serve tea with each dish of the 10 course degustation – so it is possible to experience a 10 course tea degustation with your meal. I may be somewhat biased but that is definitely my idea of heaven!
Along with this emerging growth of quality tea in Australia comes the launch of the Australasian Specialty Tea Association (AASTA) – an organisation dedicated to increasing awareness and enjoyment of specialty tea in Australia. Comprised of tea professionals and enthusiasts – with a few tea producers in for good measure – AASTA holds gatherings centred around tea tasting and learning. Last year Angelina of Tea&Sympathy ran a Tea and Cheese pairing at AASTA’s Melbourne event – which was a huge hit with all.
So if you want to make the most of this emerging trend and opportunity to explore more - try a new tea that you haven’t tasted before, join a tea class, throw a tea-party or check out AASTA. Have fun and happy tea-drinking!
Photos by Hannah Kelly Creative