In part one of our series on tea gurus, we meet Stu Hay from The Tea Catcher, who is out to educate drinkers on the joys of experimenting with their cuppa.
Five bucks at a café for a tea bag and a bit of boiling water? No way says Stu Hay, aka The Tea Catcher.
“People are taking the piss. The mark-up is outrageous. I don’t think they should charge more than a dollar. Why should people pay for hot water? They’re not paying for quality, skill, experience, or care.”
Stu knows a thing or two about tea. He’s been drinking the best of it since the early 2000s.
His late twenties were spent hanging out in Prague tearooms, drinking and talking about tea. “Post-revolution Czech Republic developed an incredible tea culture: one of the best international tea cultures anywhere in the world,” he says.
“Pre-Europe I spent at least three years in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Last year I was in China, the year before Taiwan.”
When Stu returned to Adelaide, he started his own tea business. He did so under the guidance of a mentor from Prague, also a teashop owner.
“He’s one of those very talented guys – you know the type. Like sommeliers in the wine industry, they have incredible taste and knowledge.”
Stu stocks approximately 70 teas from all over the globe and The Tea Catcher stall can now be found at The Market Shed On Holland and Bowden’s Plant 4 markets. His teas are also served at cafés including Minestra and, Troppo.
Education is part of his mission. Stu wants to teach the public, baristas and café owners how to handle and serve the good stuff.
“There’s so much to learn. I certainly don’t claim to be a ‘know it all’ expert. Learning the skills can be complicated but it doesn’t have to be.
“Ninety-eight percent of people don’t know the difference between a white tea and a green tea.”
It all comes down to how and when the leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) are processed.
“Most people don’t know the differences in tea production – they’ve got no idea that a green tea comes from the same plant as black tea. I’d say the biggest misconception is the naming of different teas and different tea plants. Parallel to that is the misconception that preparation methods are all the same. That’s what lets people down a little bit.”
Boiling water, for example, should not be added to most teas. “Green tea gets horribly strong if it sits in water too long.”
How long should it steep once water is added?
“Some teas will go for seven steeps – and you can keep pouring water on it. It should be okay [to re-use] for 24 hours. It takes a bit of experimentation. Education is a large part of what I do so each tea I sell comes with a little A5 sheet talking provenance and how to prepare it.”
Don’t be scared of what’s in the pot.
“I see people come to my stall and their eyes roll back because I’ve got a shelf with 70 teas on it and they don’t know where to start. I have to engage with them and gauge their experience.
“Experiment – it’s fun to muck around.”
Stu hopes to eventually run master classes and have his own bricks and mortar space. In the meantime, you don’t need to know your tannins from your floral notes, your hand-rolling from your withering step, or the botanical description of a first and second flush to enjoy a good cuppa.
An inquisitive nature and willingness to learn may make your next tea break more enjoyable.
“Ritual is part of it. With wine you might decant, or with coffee you may have a nice grinder machine. Tea rituals are even more involved but you can take them as far as you like. The Matcha [powdered green tea] ceremony is an hour and a half to two hours long but you can also make it in five minutes.”
“Look, it’s just a drink. People say I should put the tea in fancy packaging but I know what happens then… they put them on the top shelf because it’s special and never open it. My mum does that! Just drink it. As long as the packaging keeps the air and sun out that’s good for me.”
What is it about tea that he loves so much?
“At a bare minimum it slows us down just for a few moments and on a chemical level tea is great. It’s got caffeine and also a substance called theanine which gives that relaxing side you get form tea. It slows the uptake of caffeine but relaxes us at the same time.”
Stu cops a bit of grief for sourcing his tea abroad, but ultimately it all comes down to quality.
“The best teas are grown at over 1000 metres of altitude with a certain type of drainage and a monsoon period. We don’t have that.
“While we can make good teas, we’ll never make the world’s best teas. We don’t have the climate. So I feel okay about that. I don’t get the closest teas I can find – I get the best teas I can.”
Got a tip for brewing the perfect cuppa? Let us know in the comments, below.