Stopping for Tea at Curators Coffee
Leyla Kazim visits the acclaimed new coffee shop Curators Coffee Gallery on Margaret Street for a chat about tea with owner Catherine Seay.
Curators Coffee is a two-site speciality coffee house launched in 2012 by a group of Antipodean coffee devotees. Catherine Seay, Director of Operations and part-owner, says the philosophy behind the enterprise is about going that extra mile. “There’s always going to be similar elements when comparing us to other coffee houses, but we want to strive to be one of the best and we really want to push our industry further,” she explains.
Whilst tea can usually be found on menus in coffee bars, it is often an afterthought and given little attention. One thing that makes Curators stand out is that their tea offering shuns this preconception; it’s as premium as their coffee and sourced from Lalani & Co.
“I feel tea should get the same attention [as coffee] and should be sourced the same way – one farm, and one lot from that one farm. We do it with lots of other things – like wines – so I don’t know why we’re not doing it more with tea,” explains Catherine.
Catherine has always been a fan of tea, and compared to their first site off Fenchurch Street which is more of a takeaway operation, the slower pace and seating available at their second on Margaret Street allowed them to do more with tea.
“We have Assam and green tea which we can brew up relatively quickly. But we’ve got extra teas on the ChemEx brew bar that we serve alongside the really special coffees – such as the oolong and sencha – because they take a little longer to make,” explains Catherine.
“There is a lot of education we do with customers – we explain the difference between teas and how they’re different to a standard English Breakfast. But I actually think the tea revolution is still coming”.
Part of Catherine’s job is to ensure they have the facilities to easily obtain the different water temperatures required for the different teas. “We’ve made up little recipes that combine filtered room temperature water and hot water (either from our 85C or 95C taps), and we mix them to get the cooler temperatures,” reveals Catherine.
Knowledge on how to precisely brew the teas is supplied directly by Lalani & Co. “They’ve provided great training, because we need to be educated as well,” explains Catherine. “I think it’s important – they don’t want to sell us this really beautiful product and have us do it wrong. If we want customers to buy the tea, we really need to know what we’re talking about and how to get the best out of it.”
Ultimately, being able to offer high-end teas served at their absolute best is not a difficult undertaking. “I think it’s really simple,” explains Catherine. “You just need to weigh the tea, measure the water, and make sure the temperature and brewing time is right.”
The procedure of brewing varies depending on where the customer intends to enjoy drinking it. “If people are sitting in, we take the sand timer over to the table and we’ll tell them that when it’s finished running, the tea will have been brewed for the perfect amount of time and they should pour it,” explains Catherine.
If the order is for a take away, the team infuse it behind the counter and pour it for the customer when it’s ready. “I feel really strongly about not giving someone a tea bag as they’re just going to leave it in and they won’t get the best out of it,” explains Catherine. “I think if we’re going to all this trouble to have these beautiful teas, we should go all the way.”
It was the expertise of Lalani & Co, and Catherine’s love of the product, that lead to them becoming the chosen tea supplier for Curators Coffee.
“Once I sat down with them [Lalani & Co], it was always going to be them,” Catherine goes on to explain. “Lalani & Co. have so much knowledge and passion and it’s something the people in the coffee industry have for their coffees too”.
Part of the Curators Coffee doctrine is for their suppliers to reflect their own values. “What’s important to us is to align ourselves to people that have the same philosophy towards their products. So everyone we use, we choose because they really care about what they supply,” explains Catherine. “And when you taste the tea, it’s phenomenal.”
As well as a standard brew in a teapot, other tea treatments can be spotted on the menu. “We have an iced tea, but it’s not the usual iced tea where you flavour it with loads of things,” explains Catherine. “We infuse the Darjeeling in the fridge overnight, and it’s just beautiful. You wouldn’t want to add anything.”
Matcha tea can be ordered as a frothy latte. “We make a mini matcha shot, top it up with steamed milk just like a coffee latte, and do some nice latte art on top,” explains Catherine.
But when matcha is ordered simply as tea, it is subject to the time-honoured Japanese method. “We use the traditional bamboo whisk to get a nice foam on top,” divulges Catherine. “You add the powder to the bottom of the vessel, then a little cold water, and mix it to make quite a thick paste. Then you add some hot water, really whisk it, and top it up with more hot water.”
“It’s really popular,” explains Catherine.
Catherine has visions for the future when it comes to the tea offerings at Curators Coffee.
“There’s loads about tea I’ve learnt and I’m still learning,” she explains. “The guys at Lalani & Co. often suggest food pairings for different teas; that’s the sort of level I’d like to be at. We’re not quite there yet, and neither are the customers, but I’d really like to do that.”
The capacity to expand this knowledge may well be offered to customers too. “In the past at the other site we did latte and coffee brewing classes. It would be great if we could start doing some tea tasting evenings,” Catherine explains. “So down the track that’s what I think we’d like to do, because we’ve got a really good space for it here as well.”