Forget coffee, it’s time to be serious about our tea choices
Australian coffee culture is renowned, but is it time we started thinking more about the tea we're drinking?
Increasingly, consumers are turning to premium options, feeling that tea is a natural choice with low-caffeine options.
While that may be the case, Henrietta Lovell thinks we need to know what's in our cup, where it's come from and how the farmers live.
Lovell is the London-based author of Infused: Adventures in Tea and founder of the Rare Tea Company.
Lovell travels the world in search of unique terroir and sourcing direct from farmers, with a keen eye on sustainability and all inspiration for her book.
Her Instagram account charts her travels from London to New York, to the Kafa Biosphere Reserve in Ethiopia and the Rare Tea Company's koseret cooperative, where tea is grown by women smallholders who have up to half a hectare of land each, allowing them "to forge new and sustainable economic opportunities by selling their organic herbs".
Many of us know very little about the tea we drink beyond a brand.
"Imagine if wine was sold as a commodity," says Lovell. "It goes to auction and someone decides on the price - not the farmer. It would be impossible for the vineyard to run and it's the same for a tea garden."
Buying tea from a company that trades directly with tea gardens rather than brokers is one way to know your tea brand is on the right track.
As with any other producer, getting to the story is important. Lovell says that simply looking at a brand's Instagram account, delving into their website and asking direct questions will give an inkling of the relationship between the brand and the grower.
"If they don't know, don't buy it," says Lovell. "And that will force especially the big players to think differently about how they have those relationships with the farms."
"We just have to think differently about farming practices and the consumer has to care. The consumer has to go, 'Okay, is this farm sustainable?' It's easy to do that. But it's very hard to do that by just buying an organic box of tea. The consumer having a proper understanding about where this comes from and what kind of community it is and asking, is it something I want to be part of?"
And the humble tea bag? It doesn't escape Lovell's gaze. She describes it as "totally unsustainable … to take a tree, turn it into paper for single use, and the chemicals". Her answer is simple: "The teapot has been around 5000 years. It's not complicated."
Originally published as How to be a tea snob