The Tea Centre: tea-ming with memories
21 years ago, on the 1st of September 1993, a little tea shop opened on Glenmore Road, just off Oxford Street, in Paddington, Sydney.
Originally called The Tea Centre of Sydney, this concept store was merely the beginning of an extraordinary movement to convert the Australian public’s perception of the humble tea leaf.
It was the early nineties and compared to tea, coffee was the high-powered mover and shaker, boasting brick-sized mobile phones and shoulder-padded business jackets. In comparison, tea was an old, wet bag going nowhere. Before The Tea Centre, tea had no real retail presence besides the underwhelming bags of dust that sat on supermarket shelves.
Joakim, now better known as Kim, was a gregarious young Swede who had been living in Australia since the late-eighties. He had immediately seen the glaring gap in the market for premium tea and went about spruiking his plan of creating a quality tea shop to anyone who would listen. However, it was an uphill battle as all the naysayers drilled into Kim that “Everyone drinks coffee”.
Around this time, Kim had been working at a high-end restaurant in Sydney, waiting on the likes of Tom and Nicole, and Lenny Kravtiz. It was there he made friends with Sharon — a co-worker who positively brimmed with energy and industry. Not one to be disheartened by the cynics, Kim decided to share his tea concept with Sharon, who replied with an enthusiastic: “What a great idea”. So simple yet so reassuring was her response that together they immediately set about their mission to breathe some life into tea.
And so it was in September of 1993, that The Tea Centre was launched in the boutique suburb of Paddington, Sydney. The shop was quaint, the product was exceptional, and demand was insatiable. The hordes could not get enough of the deliciously beautiful aromas and flavours that the loose leaf teas offered.
But the work was hard, and Kim’s and Sharon’s time was split between working in their flourishing business and waiting tables at the restaurant to make ends meet. Their efforts eventually paid off as their customer base continued to consistently grow; their popularity even reaching as far as Japan.
After the first year of being open, they realised that while the idea of tea was an appealing concept to most people, many were still not familiar with how to get the most out of their leaves. Tea had evolved past merely dunking a teabag in boiling water. Making tea had developed a ritualistic aspect as certain leaves required certain brewing temperatures and utilised certain implements and could be served in certain ways. The tea-drinking public wanted to be re-educated on the finer points of enjoying this enchanting beverage. The original concept of solely offering tea leaves on a retail basis had to be reassessed as plans to create a teahouse where everyone could sit down and enjoy tea quickly came together.
It was in Sydney’s Glasshouse in Pitt Street Mall that their search for a more commodious space ended when Sharon came across the perfect location for The Tea Centre’s first teahouse. No space could have been more fitting as it was this same location that originally accommodated the teahouse of celebrated Chinese merchant and philanthropist, Quong Tart. “This is it” she thought to herself. The oak façade complemented The Tea Centre’s character and the little mezzanine level was what could only be described as a “cozy oasis”. It was the ideal place to enjoy a cup of tea.
In the years that ensued, Kim and Sharon experienced their fair share of achievements and setbacks. The addition of Kerry as their third business partner was definitely favourable as she kept the team fun but focused on the task at hand — spreading the word of tea.
Eventually, Kim and Kerry decided to move to Brisbane and it was in the Brisbane Arcade in the city’s Queen Street Mall that Kim experienced Sharon’s Glasshouse moment. Kim had discovered where the next shop would go as he stumbled across the exquisite little space. Soon after, The Tea Centre’s second shop was born. From that point onwards, The Tea Centre gained momentum. By 2014, from what started out as a sapling of an idea, had grown into a plantation of tea aficionados, and blossomed into twelve stores up and down the east coast of Australia.
All the shops are still tirelessly nurtured by Kim, Sharon, and Kerry; hopefully, with more to come…