Not just a hot cuppa

Orange tea fest highlights greatest cuppa


Dubbo farmer Katja Williams has turned a passion for special tea into a satisfying career. Photo: Rachael Webb

Dubbo farmer Katja Williams has turned a passion for special tea into a satisfying career. Photo: Rachael Webb

Aa

Orange festival to highlight the fine and sensible art of serving tea in a busy world where ceremony is often overlooked

Aa

Criminology and the art of delicate negotiation when dealing with juvenile offenders does correlate to the art and science surrounding the fine art of serving High Tea.

Next weekend, May 24-26, the city of Orange will play host to a festival devoted to the ancient beverage, from the smoky tones of a Russian Caravan through the Bergamot-infused Earl Greys to cutting edge herbals, perfect with a pepper steak.

Spearheading the new tea experience is Dubbo farmer Katja Williams, who with her husband Ned turns off poll Shorthorn bulls when she is not custom blending an exotic array of aromas.

But it was not always so. Katja fell in love with the subtle tones of hot tea while studying in cool Armidale, where she earned a degree in criminology and later worked in Dubbo with the juvenile justice sector.

By that time her passion for the tannin-coloured infusion had expanded and she was blending not only the basics, but hot spices like chili to a fiery Chai, while adding citrus to other tropical delights.

It was a hobby with no bounds and at some point Mr Williams said "enough".

"You've given the stuff away and yet we still have too much to drink ourselves. Why don't you start selling it?."

Katja's first public foray was at the Rotary Riverside market, operated by the Dubbo Show Society, and it proved the perfect launching platform for a new-look old-fashioned product re-launch.

At first her potential customers weren't so sure about florals and spices, and especially the idea that coconut could be brought into the blend as if tea were some cocktail.

"Far out!" they said. "This is Dubbo not Byron Bay!"

Katja, undaunted, called upon skills learned during her career in criminology, like reading body signals and being careful with verbal engagement. Even when a potential customer had folded their arms and tried to back away, Katja appealed to a bit of their inner curiosity, by rewording her pitch and working to build rapport.

Of course the market is always right, no matter how engaging the sell, and Katja eventually toned down some of her infusions and today finds a few popular teas suit most of her customers.

Those favourites are typically strong black teas like Russian Caravan with its distinctive smoky aroma; Earl Grey with it poetic nose and good old English Breakfast.

Not your typical cuppa - blended looseleaf black tea with florals and spices.

Not your typical cuppa - blended looseleaf black tea with florals and spices.

All of them are suitable for the lace-covered table or from the Billy down the back paddock. To that end Katja enthuses about a clever pocket stove that boils a cuppa with a handful of twigs.

Her customers responded well to the muted tones and within two years the tea lady was attending eight markets a month with a few more in the lead up to a typically busy Christmas.

The allure of exotica still draws Katja, and she finds the markets in Orange and Blayney are more adventurous with their tastes.

"They're more willing to try different things," she says, even to the point of ordering her Easter special - a creme broulee tea made with chocolate and condensed milk.

Tea with tea, or any meal, is another avenue of taste that has captured Katja's interest, and she describes a pepper infused chai tea that compliments the flavour of the steak while off-setting the heavy cream sauce.

"Black teas are different all over the world," says Katja. "Like the way wines taste different depending on where the grapes are grown."

In the beginning, before she took courses in blending, Katja taught herself - starting with different bases and creating her own infusions.

Later Katja became certified in the science of tea blending, taking part in intensive schooling where she learned about where tea is grown and why its flavours differ.

"We began to understand the Ying and Yang of tea," she said, "It's about the balance, and how a blend can bring about a fully rounded flavour.

"You don't want individual ingredients to step up and out of the cup. You want them to be part of the whole."

"Loose leaf tea, as opposed to tea in a bag, offers quite a complex layer of flavour," Katja enthuses. "With loose leaf their is a depth of flavour that changes from beginning to end

Setting a tea table is itself a small ceremony that should be enjoyed, and mulled over just like the beverage.

"It's all abut taking the time to do it," she said, "It's more of a relaxing product and should take longer to get ready.

"It's all to do with sitting down and taking time. Even in Dubbo the tea ceremony is about pulling up and taking a moment."

It's about the balance, and how a blend can bring about a fully rounded flavour. You don't want individual ingredients to step up and out of the cup. - Katja Williams

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by