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The End Of An Era For Sydney Tea Drinkers

Saturday 21st February 2015 will see the doors closing on one of Sydney’s iconic tea rooms and café. The Sydney Tea Centre is moving to new premises, and many of us will see this day as a very sad one. Not having The Tea Centre at its home in the Glasshouse on the corner Pitt Street Mall & King Street, just won’t feel the same.

My involvement with this shop started back in late 1997, after a midweek beer in Manly with Tea Centre owner Joakim Torstensson. The result of that evening was that my then business, Lyons Fine Foods, would take over the wholesaling of The Tea Centre’s range of teas. The Sydney shop was the one and only shop at the time, and doubled up as head office. So business meetings and Kim’s tea training was conducted at one of the tables and, of course, over a cup of tea. Little did I realize then that I would later sell my business and become an employee of The Tea Centre; that the Sydney shop would become my base, and a place I was to spend many hours and meet thousands of different people.

The site of the Tea Centre shop in the Glasshouse, for many of us also held great historical significance. The Glasshouse Centre fronts on to Pitt Street Mall and King Street. Number 137 King Street, which today is a part of the Glasshouse centre was the site of Australia’s first teahouse, owned by one Mei Quong Tart. His tearooms opened in 1889 and offered teas and refreshment to all – his staff were taught not to discriminate against anyone and that the establishment was open to everyone. On upper levels Quong offered slightly more private rooms only for ladies, where they could take tea, write letters, or simply read the latest ladies magazines and chat. This article I wrote for The Tea Centre gives you more of the history of Quong and his life.

The Tea Centre, Sydney has also been a great place of employment for a many people – including myself. For many, they will remember it as the place of their first job; for others, the place which opened their eyes to a new passion for tea, but for most it is a place where they were introduced to work mates- who then became friends. For example Juanita, worked at The Tea Centre, Sydney for many years, then left to start her family, and later returned to a place she enjoyed, loved, and, oh yes, worked!

For customers, the shop has been described on more than one occasion as a calm oasis in the madness that is Sydney. A place to refresh with a lovely cup of tea, to meet friends, chat and catch up, for lovers, a secret rendezvous over tea and scones, and for city ladies and gents a place to do business. How many memories this little tea shop holds for so many people – memories which cannot be taken away by so-called progress. I’m sure the newly designed fashion mega store, will look spectacular in this area, but will the patrons of it ever be able to have the memories that so many have of that little tea shop, The Tea Centre, Sydney?

So between now and the 21st February, if you have found memories of The Sydney Tea Centre, pop in one last time, sit, have tea, and as you leave say a fond farewell to this Sydney institution.

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