Home' The Wellingtonian : October 25th 2012 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, OCTOBER 25, 2012
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Wellington's tea pioneers
Amy Jackman talks to
t Leaf T owner John Van
Gorp about visiting tea
plantations, starting a
John Van Gorp: ''People were just putting up with bad tea... so we really saw a gap in the market.''
Photo: AMY JACKMAN
Did you know much about tea
before you and your wife
Amanda started t Leaf T in
We did 18 months of research.
Amanda saw a resurgence of tea
in Wellington. Her friends seemed
to be choosing tea instead of coffee
and the opportunity sprang from
that. There were one or two com-
panies doing it well, but other
than that you had your super-
market varieties. You didn't have
the choice at all. If you wanted to
pay more for a quality product,
you couldn't really do it. People
were just putting up with bad tea.
If they went to a cafe and didn't
want caffeine they basically had
to have chamomile. It was the
default go to infusion. So we really
saw a gap in the market.
What kind of research did
We went to Sri Lanka and
China and visited the tea planta-
tions. Sri Lanka was fantastic.
The tea plantations were started
by the English. You've got this
chaotic Sri Lankan countryside
and then you've got these English
tea factories and these narrow
roads. You can see how tea really
helped develop places like Sri
Lanka. It's a great place to see
how to produce orthodox types of
loose tea, english breakfast and
such, versus the teabag tea, where
everything is macerated and cut
to get as much flavour out of the
tea for as little cost as possible.
Was visiting the plantations
There's plenty of places online
where you can find out about the
process of making tea, but there's
no substitute for going there,
touching the tea, seeing the
machinery, seeing what happens
when the tea is being fired and
smelling the fragrance.
How are the different variet-
Tea all comes from the same
plant, the camellia sinensis. The
main difference between black
and green tea is oxidation and
how they are processed. If you
have a leaf, crush it and get the
juices that come out of it, over
time they oxidise and the tea
becomes more fermented, blacker
and has an increased caffeine con-
tent. For oolongs, which are semi-
fermented and sit in between the
black and green teas, there's a tra-
ditional way of preparing them in
China. The leaves are lightly
bruised and put in this sacking
material, which is twisted really
hard. They come out as these hard
almost mountainous-looking teas.
Then you have something like a
jasmine dragon pearl tea. The
first two leaves and bud that come
out on the plant are withered, just
set out somewhere to wilt, and
then handrolled and scented with
Why did you decide to open
Amanda and I are born and
bred Wellingtonians. We thought
it was the perfect city to start a
company like this, because food is
so supported here. Wellingtonians
have good palates, appreciate
quality and have good taste. They
are also willing to give things a go.
Was it tough in those first
There was a period of three
months when I worked every day
for 14 hours a day. For the first
three or four years, when we were
still losing money, we had to
spend the time to get everything
under control. Now we hire people
to do various things so I don't
have to do everything any more,
but I generally still work six days
Do you have any advice for
people starting their own
If you're going to do a start-up,
you need to do it in a market that
is trending up and where there's
not much competition when you're
getting going. Also, whatever your
budget is at the start, double it.
Doing a start-up well sucks all
your money for a couple of years.
Did you grow up drinking
When I grew up it was always
an english breakfast style of tea.
Bell, Choysa, that sort of scenario.
pleasure to discover a whole
bunch of teas. Our initial menu I
chose 120 teas, so I had to taste
them all and to choose them I
might have tried over 300 differ-
What are your favourite teas
and do you drink coffee as
Usually I start with irish break-
fast in the morning and we have
this other tea called namdang bp
that's good for mid-morning. It's
an assam tea and I love those. I
have two to three cups of tea in
the morning, then I will have a
coffee mid-morning. From there I
will drink caffeinated tea like earl
grey through the afternoon and
herbal teas like peppermint and
our Restful tea in the evening.
What are your best sellers?
English breakfast and earl grey,
especially in cafes. In our tea store
things like tokyo lime, Restful,
which is an Indian tulsi herb tea
with a peach flavour, and pepper-
mint sell really well.
What do you enjoy doing
when you take a tea break?
We have three kids. One's at
university now, but Anna and
Jack, 11 and 13, keep us really
busy. Amanda's into her art. She
does a bit of painting and I have
been doing a bit of taekwondo,
because when you run your own
business you have to have some
sort of exercise.
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