Image: T Totaler cold brews via Instagram.
Author: Melody Menu
T Totaler’s trademark French Earl Grey Hot Chocolate incorporates the particular citrus tang of bergamot – not steeped for too long so as to become bitter – within a warming cacao and coconut sugar mix. Instore, this is topped with wispy Persian fairy floss and small ripe rosebuds, for a uniquely floral finish. Unsurprisingly, this inventive and colourful concoction went viral, inspiring the team behind T Totaler to continue creating interesting and strange brews: from tea lattes and sparkling teas, to elixirs you drink out of chocolate easter eggs.
At the centre of their creative philosophy was a passion for locally-grown tea and herbs, and lovingly-designed reusable packaging, solidifying T Totaler as more than a refreshingly original tea house, but an environmentally and socially conscious one at that. To talk all things tea and sustainability, I had a chat with the husband and wife team behind T Totaler, Paul and Amber Sunderland.
Melody Menu: How did T Totaler begin?
Paul: Basically, it was from a love of tea. Amber has travelled a lot – a lot of travelling around Asia – and when Amber used to travel, she used to love sitting down at the tea houses. All of the local people would stop by the tea house, get their cup of tea on the way to their work, meet up with their friends.
I am English, so that has always been a part of my background as well. You have friends over, you put the kettle on. In the evening, you make a cup of tea for yourself. We always experimented with tea [together], making different blends, different growing methods.
We started T Totaler at markets, so it was predominantly markets in the end of 2012. And it just organically grew. So we got some wholesale clients, started selling online, opened up the Newtown space maybe three and a half to four years ago, and now we have the space in the city which has just turned one-year-old.
MM: What is the place of tea in contemporary life?
Paul: There is a relief in the brewing of it. Because it takes three minutes to brew up – there’s no way to speed up that process. It’s a whole ritual where you get to smell a few different teas, see what you’re feeling. And you’ll find that whenever you speak to ‘tea people’, they’ve got like a cupboard full of tea, which is like a prerequisite. They put that in their teapot, infuse that, and it takes a few minutes. So you have that relaxation period – you can’t speed it up and it’s not really that long where you can go off and do something else, so it just lets you unwind a little bit.
MM: You have a big Instagram following and a flair for colourful and creative photos. How has social media influenced T Totaler?
Amber: One of the main advantages would be brand exposure as a small business, especially [where] you don’t have that much money around for something like advertising, so social media is great to get your product out there; get people following your story. We’re generally pretty inventive bringing new tea lattes out, different types of loose leaf teas, it’s quite a nice way to show to the guys that are interested that ‘oh, this is what we’re up to at the moment.’
Paul: One of the things that we always thought of as a business was experimentation and trying new things, pushing the boundaries of what you can do, with tea especially. Trying to get people out of the mindset of a teabag, milk and two sugars.
MM: How important is environmental and social sustainability to you and how does T Totaler emulate this?
Paul: Very important. You’ve probably seen the jars that we sell the tea in – one of the reasons we wanted to use those is that they’re reusable – people can bring them back to our Newtown store, they get a discount to refill. So technically they can buy the jar and just bring it back for years – that way we’re not creating extra packaging and extra waste. We’re also very particular in the teas that we get.
We have a full Australian-grown rage, where we source from local farmers within Australia, trying to promote Aussie tea and botanicals and natives, but we’re also very careful about the teas that we source overseas – making sure that they’re sustainably grown, making sure all the workers treated fairly.
MM: What is the significance of using Australian native and indigenous ingredients in some of your teas?
Paul: One of the things that we found when we were starting T Totaler was that there was not that much Aussie stuff out there, tea-wise. We really wanted to bring it to the forefront – there are some really interesting native ingredients; native flavours that a lot of people don’t really know about. And we just like to try and keep it more local. As we started at the markets, a very local vibe, we just want to continue that with the business.
MM: What are both of your favourite teas?
Amber: The Coconut Lemon Splice, the Australian-grown tea: Sencha, lemon myrtle and dried coconut. I like the freshness of it, it’s a nice balance between green, which has got a savoury aspect, but then blended with lemon myrtle and coconut, brings out that fresh green tea taste.
Paul: I have two – one is the Smoky Black Tea. It’s a smoked Keemun tea, which is from China, and a Ceylon tea, so it’s like a peaty-style black tea, almost whisky-like. And then the Iron Goddess, which is an Oolong tea, which is a semi-fermented tea. I like the Smoky Black – it’s like a more interesting style of black tea, really hearty, really warming. Then the Iron Goddess, I find it’s slightly more floral and really nice – it gives me a lot of energy.
T Totaler is located at 555A King Street, Newtown; and
500 George Street, Ground Floor, 26A The Galeries.