When the first T2 popped up in London a few years ago waves of excitement rippled through the expat Australian community. Finally, a T2 in London. The capital's Australians where soon overheard exchanging rumours about more locations, about the blends of oolong and Auckland Breakfast that were sure to be among the expanding range. For a country of sunshine and warm weather you wouldn’t think its inhabitants would be so eager for a hot cup of tea.
But it wasn’t your average cup of English Breakfast they were pining for 12,000 miles from home. T2 had managed, and still continues to this day, to make tea drinking look cool. It captures the arsenal of flavours found in all types of tea, from herbal and floral to semi-fermented, white and green, and makes them look new. T2 is essentially the tea store for a new generation of tea drinkers.
Their fun, beautiful and loud range of teaware only adds to the allure of the brand. Not to mention its thoroughly modern-styled stores, a world away from the rich woods, ancient tea chests and dim lights of traditional English brands.
As fans of any brand which takes flavours and liquid and turns up the volume, we quickly got in contact and T2 generously let us into their Redchurch Street store to soak up some tea knowledge from the team.
A trip to T2 is like stepping into a flavour library where every little orange box could be turned into a syrup for cocktails and cooking. The Earl Grey Martini is pretty famous nowadays – it’s even on the BBC website under recipes – but that blend of Sri Lankan black tea and bergamot is just one of hundreds of possible flavours to pair and infuse.
As we rummaged through the shelves, picked up small ramekins of tea to smell and touch the dried fruits and leaves, and sipped on small cups of chai and French Earl Grey (new favourite – a fruity twist with petals and notes of fruit that play with classic bergamot) the team were talking us through making cold gin infusions for around 20 minutes, syrups using equal measures of tea – infused for 4 minutes – to sugar, and blending the teas together. Lavender and rose, ginger and hibiscus, lemongrass and vanilla mint, apple crumble and toasty nougat, silver needles and white rose, the combinations were endless.
“T2 fruit flavours are always natural so you’ll never get that sickly sweet flavour,” said Sally, our impossibly clued-up guide to the tea world. “We always try to blend teas, from the single-flavoured teas to the more complex creations. And we all have such different tastes, for me New Zealand black tea is the best I’ve ever had but others don’t like it.”
Once we were done with blending and making syrups we turned our taste buds to chai. With the right base flavours you can make anything into a chai, Sally told us, which is essentially based on black tea with milk, spices and a sweetener. T2’s Chocolate Chip Chai works wonders brewed on the hob with milk or soy and honey.
Then there’s the whole world of green tea. Sally pulled out the brands Gyokuro, which is a highly prized Japanese green tea, grown in the shade so that the tea has a heightened level of chlorophyll. Its emerald green leaves yield a refined brew with a sweet lingering flavour. The range of green and flavoured green is immense, and they need to be brewed slightly differently to oolong, black and white tea. Sally recommended infusing the green teas for one minute in 70 degree water, as the strength of their flavours needed little more.
Teaed-out for a few moments we turned to the teaware, which is all about colour, from the Moroccan Tealeidoscope in aqua and orange and which is a vibrant kaleidoscope of colours and shapes that verges on the psychedelic to the Marie Loves range which is T2’s stylised interpretation of the classic era of Marie Antoinette – think extravagant, quirky and feminine.
“T2 isn’t coming in to mess it up for the old brands, they deserve respect and shouldn’t change away from their heritage – plus their tea is amazing,” says Sally. “T2 is about a younger generation who might see tea as boring. We’re about exploring all the fun things you can do with tea, as well as the different flavours.”
The shop’s hands-on approach seems to be working. In the Redchurch Street store it’s a rare customer who comes, goes directly to the shelves and picks out one tea to buy. Instead Shoreditch’s shoppers come in, pick things up, smell the infusions, discover new tea types, ask the staff to brew them a taster and let their eyes be caught by the vibrant teaware range.
It certainly seems the Aussies have found a way to breathe new life into the very well established cup of tea. And personally we’re smitten with everything T2, from our morning pot of French Earl Grey to our evening tea-flavoured cocktails.
Address: 48-50 Redchurch St, Shoreditch, London E2 7DP and with other locations in Windsor, Richmond, Shepherd's Bush, Regent Street and Kings Road. See their website for more details.