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T TOTALER, A HISTORY: part one, 2012-2017

Carriageworks Market in Eveleigh
An early market stall at Carriageworks in Eveleigh, Sydey

It’s 2012, and after years of travelling the world, newlyweds Amber and Paul Sunderland have some questions: why is tea always wrapped in so much plastic? Where is all the home grown tea? And who is giving tea the attention that coffee enjoys? Having traversed over thirty countries and immersing themselves deeper into tea culture along the way, Amber and Paul had more than a few ideas about the landscape of tea at home in Australia. The first step: locally grown tea, herbs and botanicals. The second step: sustainable (and aesthetic) packaging. And the third step: a place for this philosophy to call home.

Newtown T Totaler opens in 2014
The sign goes up at our first store in Newtown, 2014

This all began in Newtown - a bustling suburb of inner western Sydney known for its anything goes attitude and its love of all things local. Sure, the Sunderlands had drunk chai on Himalayan mountain tops, contemplated matcha in the old capital of Japan, and brewed oolongs in Taiwanese fields - that was all steeped, literally and figuratively, in the thrill of international travel. But what happens here at home in Australia? Turns out, a lot more than they anticipated.

Alpine Victoria grows some of the world's finest green tea
Inspecting local tea produce in Victorian tea fields

Building connections with growers takes time, and much like a good chai recipe, takes a lot of effort from a few so that many can enjoy a good cup. From the Daintree rainforest in the north of the continent to the valleys of Victoria in the south, Amber and Paul found famers that could cater to the need they saw in the tea drinking public. With black tea from Kuku Yalanji country (Port Douglas), green tea from Dhudhuroa Country (North East Victoria), and native herbs from all over Australia, the Sunderlands began blending, packaging and supplying tea under the aptly named T Totaler company.

Drinking tea in Korea
A tea house in Hadong, Korea

While the focus began on home grown produce, Amber and Paul remembered that the history of tea stretches far and wide. China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa - their travelogue and their tea company collided to become the place they knew should exist, but didn’t - yet. T Totaler’s first day of trade was in the corner of an antiquary on King Street, but it was Marrickville Markets that solidified their reputation as the local tea alchemists of choice. After a year or so of weekly market stalls, it came time to expand.

Our signature Tea Nwgroni at Bennelong, Sydney Opera House
Our infamous Tea Negroni at Bennelong, Sydney Opera House

Sydney’s first tea bar opened with a fanfare of steam, steeping and experimental brewing techniques. T Totaler, having outgrown its market stall origins, opened its first brick and mortar location on the south end of King Street in Newtown betwixt an op shop and the local pub. The centrepiece was the communal table, around which locals - friends and strangers alike - would meet. The Sundelands firmly believed that tea to be a conduit for community building, and the old Newtown shop front proved this to be true.

Tea degistations at Newtown were a chance to experiment and explore the varying profiles of tea
One of Amber's signature cakes, part of the tea degustation menu at Newtown

It was this store that would host T Totaler’s monthly degustations and blending workshops. The degustations were a 6 course dessert paring experience, exploring the complex and varied profiles of tea. This was an era of experimentation for T Totaler, and would lead to signature inventions like tea hot chocolate blends and sparkling tea sodas. With the local community so eager to learn about tea, blending workshops were a chance for the Sunderlands to hone in on tea education. This fun loving exploration of tea lead to T Totaler conducting these workshops on a larger scale for companies like Atlassian, Pinterest and Canva.

Our world famous French Earl Grey hot chocolate
Our signature creation, the French Earl Grey Tea Hot Chocolate

Sydney’s vibrant cafe and restaurant culture took notice and T Totaler began supplying wholesale to some of the biggest names in the harbour city. Custom blends for Momofuku and Bennelong, seasonal menu supply for Chin Chin’s, and chai for what seemed like every cafe in the inner west of Sydney. The couple kept experimenting: Australian bush chai, earl grey hot chocolate, tea negroni - no one was doing what T Totaler was continuing to do: push the boundaries of tea, all the while incorporating locally grown ingredients unique to Australia. 

2017 rolled around, and it was time to up the ante.

T Totaler's pop up in The Strand Arcade, 2016
T Totaler's pop up store in The Strand Arcade, 2016

While Newtown was home, Sydney’s metropolitan city centre was calling. After a well recieved pop up in the iconic Strand Arcade in 2016, The Galeries (home to some of the world’s biggest retailers) was to house T Totaler’s next outlet. On the 22nd of April 2017, T Totaler’s new flagship opened its doors. It was here that the now infamous French Earl Grey Tea Hot Chocolate had its big moment, with everyone from local food bloggers to this Japanese TV show hosted by a puppet coming to grab one of these pashmak topped wonders. This was indeed the beginning of a new chapter for T Totaler.

To be continued...



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