As Perth’s specialty coffee scene has exploded, a tea resurgence has been quietly brewing in the background.
From local award-winning blends to organic varieties sourced from the northern tip of Bangladesh and imported by a Fremantle family, Perth’s tea aficionados are just as serious about their brews as the city’s coffee set are obsessed about their beans.
And those in the trade will be the first to tell you its popularity is bubbling in the same way coffee’s was a decade ago, with its health benefits driving renewed interest.
“I think the appreciation of tea and interest in tea is probably where coffee was 10 years ago,” Ruby Chai founder and certified tea master Louise Gordon said.
“I am not sure about it exploding like coffee did but I think we are becoming more discerning in our tea drinking, which is a good thing because, like coffee, it creates a demand for high-quality products,” she added.
And Gordon should know — she has seen the coffee scene mature firsthand as the part-owner of Leftfield Coffee Roasters and previously co-founder of local coffee brand Fiori.
What happens when a veteran coffee roasting business operator gives up caffeine? She goes on to create award- winning tea.
“I stopped drinking coffee because of the caffeine probably in 2005, so I’ve become focused on the tea and creating different blend recipes,” Gordon revealed.
While she had always had fun blending her own teas, it wasn’t until a customer asked her to make a honey chai that her company Ruby Chai — based in Osborne Park — was born.
“I thought, here’s an opportunity to do a standalone brand that can sell Australia-wide, so it was just sort of an inspiration from a customer asking for honey chai,” she said.
The Ruby Honey Chai, which blends raw West Australian honey with fragrant spices and aromatic black tea, was the winner in the best chai tea overall category at the 2017 Golden Leaf Awards. This year, Ruby Chai won four awards.
Perth-based XO Tea is on a mission to turn tea’s outdated image on its head, with its vibrant branding a reminder there is so much more to the beloved brew than just black tea with milk.
“Tea is not just black and white — tea is full of colour and exciting ingredients and there is a lot of diversity to be found in that,” co-owner Peter Tuckey said.
“I think people are taking more of an interest in the product itself. It’s not just black tea, it’s not just green tea anymore, it’s the herbal teas — the herbal teas are just going crazy from a Perth point of view.”
He said many new boutique tea brands were appearing around the city as people were starting to get a boarder sense of tea, its health benefits and really just enjoying the process making a gorgeous cup of tea.
“There is definitely a trend to high-quality ingredients and herbal blends which have the best natural flavours,” he added.
“Tea is definitely making a name for itself in Perth as a beverage which has more variety than coffee. I believe the scene is about to really take off with cafes and venues starting to host high tea events more frequently.”
Tuckey’s business partner Arjun Kumar’s family has been making tea since the 1930s and, with his refined tea palette, the duo were inspired to start XO Tea and bring a high-quality product to the local market.
“We are the only certified organic tea brand based in WA and our passion to persist in creating a range with amazing certified organic flavours has really helped us to find our niche position,” Tucker said.
XO Tea’s most popular blends include its Popsicle tea, which is an apple, lemon myrtle, hibiscus and raspberry blend and its Retreat tea, which blends organic ginger root, apple, liquorice root, spearmint, juniper berries, dandelions, sea-buckthorn leaf, nettle leaf, burdock and artichoke.
XO Tea is stocked in stores and cafes throughout Perth.
Bengal Fine Tea
When work opportunities took Patrick Shoesmith’s parents to South Asia, his mum discovered the exquisite taste of tea from a single estate on the northern tip of Bangladesh.
The family-run tea estate is just 50km south of Darjeeling, a region famed for its tea growing.
Keen to import the premium tea back home, the Shoesmiths established boutique company Bengal Fine Tea, based in White Gum Valley, with its three varieties (green, oolong and black) stocked in stores around Fremantle. The tea is organic, biodynamic, fair trade and includes a social program for the people who work for the tea company.
“People that drink tea are quite socially conscious whereas people with coffee beans are more into the taste and how it’s brewed, not necessarily where it’s from and the backstory,” Shoesmith said.
And while Perth’s coffee drinkers are prepared to pay premium prices for a quality cup of their favourite hot brew, Shoesmith says it’s nothing compared with what serious tea drinkers are willing to fork out.
“I did a tea tasting with a lady who was born in China and I learnt a lot from that one tea tasting because she was really keen to try our oolong — our oolong is $12.90 for 60grams.
“She told me the Chinese will spend a lot of money on a good oolong and I asked her what the most she’d ever spent was and she goes ‘The equivalent bag, I’m quite tight with money, I’ve only spent $120, but the most my mum would have spent would have been probably $360 on a 100g bag of oolong’.”
Teassential, State Buildings
As an avid tea drinker in a city obsessed with its coffee, Teassential owner and tea master Bena Andriani started a wholesale tea business as a side project to satiate her appetite for quality tea while working as a cosmetic scientist.
“I really love drinking tea and we’ve just been so neglected in Perth — we get all this specialty coffee and then we get teabags and they charge you $4 for it,” she said.
She opened Teassential at a time Perth’s tea scene was becoming a lot more sophisticated.
“Our tea range grew from about five into about 60 now and we blend new interesting tea,” she said.
“We’re catching up to Melbourne and Sydney — we’re still about seven years behind but we’re catching up.”
During winter, Andriani said tea drinkers could not get enough of matcha and chai lattes but ice teas were all the rage in summer.
“One of our most popular recently is the butterfly tea, so the colour-changing tea,” she said.
“We have a blend called the Purple Rain, which we make into an ice tea, so it starts out blue/purple and then we’ll layer that, like you would a cocktail.
“That’s been quite popular for us and we stock that into a few other cafes.”
Teassential Tea Store & Brew Bar is in the State Buildings in St Georges Terrace and was recently voted best tea house in WA and nationwide at the 2018 Golden Leaf Awards.
It also picked up six awards for its teas.
Ruby Chai: rubychai.com.au
XO Tea: xoteas.com.au
Bengal Fine Tea: www.bengalfinetea.com.au