The number of small, bespoke tea businesses based in Sydney has increased dramatically in recent years, and new events, such as the Sydney Tea Festival, have been spruiking the variety of specialty teas now available. While most of these local businesses source their tea from the expected locations: Sri-Lanka, China and India – there is still a strong interest in tea leaves grown in Australia.
T Totaler offers an entire range of Australian-grown teas, and is also in the process of launching a tea variety that is relatively new to the market. Gulbarn Tea is from the Minyerri community, south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory. The tea has a distinct eucalypt taste and has been used as a traditional medicine by the community to cure coughs and colds. “Gulbarn tea is a melaleuca, which is wild-harvested by a small Indigenous community. It has many benefits, and we can't wait to have it here and for people to try it,” says T Totaler founder Amber Hudson.
T Totaler in Newtown is one of these enterprises, passionate about using Australian-grown tea for its blends; it sources tea leaves as locally as possible. Its popular After Dinner Mint is a unique blend of Australian-grown peppermint, aniseed myrtle and sweet liquorice root. It was developed as an ode to the ‘90s tradition of little after-dinner-mint chocolates, the ones that you used to get neatly tucked into the bill at the end of a meal.
“The native Australian aniseed myrtle that we use is grown mainly in the northern areas of New South Wales and Southern Queensland,” says Hudson. “The leaves have a strong flavour and aroma similar to aniseed. They have been used as a flavouring for bush food and teas for many years.”
The peppermint leaves it uses for this blend are sourced from growers in regions of Northern Victoria and Tasmania. Australia’s peppermint industry originally began in the latter, but new hydroponic methods have allowed the herb to be grown for commercial use in greenhouses on the mainland. These fertile river flats of Northern Victoria are where Australia also produces the majority of its green tea. The high quality leaves are harvested four times a year and have recently gained attention from large commercial Japanese tea companies who are buying into the region to expand.
Andrew Cutcliffe of Tippity Teas in Balmain has created an all-Australian-grown version of his classic chai tea. “I was always getting asked if I had a blend that used Australian ingredients. I questioned myself on that and the challenge of creating a native chai blend appealed to me,” he says. “It was a long process of hand blending and taste testing, to see what native substitutes could work instead of the classic chai flavours that people know and look for.” His final native blend is a delicious, punchy chai that uses wattleseed and dorigo pepper; a rainforest shrub found in temperate forests in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, as well as several other Australian myrtle varieties that are in abundance here, such as cinnamon, anise and lemon.
Cutcliffe sources his black tea for the chai from the Daintree Rainforest in far-north Queensland. Black tea is hardest to come by in Australia, and is mostly restricted to this area of Queensland where it has been grown since 1884. The raw honey for the mix is sourced closest to home, from a family property on Sydney’s northern beaches. “There are a lot of good tea growers in Australia,” he says, “You just have to do your research, because they are often less obvious on the map. We have so many good varieties, and interesting native herbs that make great tea leaves. It’s an exciting time to experiment with what we have available and what thrives here, and grow the Australian tea industry to what it can be.”