The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar reopened in Redfern last week, so it’s a good time to respark interest in this great one-of-a-kind venue. It’s gotten a lot of worthwhile attention for proving that there’s more to tea than a bag thoughtlessly dunked into a mug – and even though steeped leaves are a headline attraction here, you don’t have to be an unreformed tea nerd to enjoy this place. (But if brewing pots of Camellia sinensis and tisanes is hugely your thing, you would really really love Rabbit Hole.) In fact, this cafe/tea bar is amazingly welcoming in that it has plenty of options for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diners and people who want to skip on the caffeine and dairy.
It also is a really fun joint, if you couldn’t already tell from the chandelier crafted from thousands of tea bags by Valeria Burgoa or Matt Woods’ spot-on design of the venue – which elegantly riffs on Alice In Wonderland references without giving you a whimsy headache. The space is flat-out breezy and beautiful and lightly adorned with marvels for you to discover – like the bunny-shaped door handle that Louise Rugendyke noted in her Spectrum review, which echoes the rabbit-tail handles on the venue’s tea cups.
Or the Kintsugi style that Matt evoked in the interiors (on co-owner Corinne Smith’s request) – so there’s a wave of loose-leaf-filled bowls pitched on timber dowels in the tea shop area, resembling acrobats balancing spinning plates, and a display bench webbed with a puzzle-like scattering of tile shards. (Matt momentarily considered getting this fragmented look via piecing together broken plates: “At one stage, there was the suggestion of raiding the aftermath of Greek wedding receptions.”) There’s also a (literally) breezy area up the back that’s meant to gently reference the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice In Wonderland. It feels like a conservatory to me and on hot days, it’s been really nice to sit by its open windows and Matt agrees (“It’s definitely my favourite spot for a cuppa in there”).
Plans for The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar have been brewing for a long time – this was Matt’s next design job after finishing Bloodwood five years ago. Having that extensive idea-steeping period meant that Corinne and co-owner Amara Jarratt have really nailed what they had in mind and Matt could give the interiors as much imagination as the pages of a Lewis Carroll book. In fact, he was the one who directed everyone down the right rabbit hole to scoring the quirky, cloud-like chandelier that commands the main room.
“I thought, what about a light made out of tea bags?” he says. “One Google search later, I found Valeria’s work and I knew we had the solution.”
The artist even installed it herself.
“She made half of the sculpture in Chile and brought it with her in her suitcase,” says Corinne. “The rest she did here with the loose teabags and special glue she uses. It was an amazing process to watch and there’s a little time lapse on our Instagram account of her in action, too.”
The fact that Corinne brought the artist out to Australia just to install the light hints at the lengths she and co-owner Amara Jarratt have endured just to get the tea bar right. Another example: they tracked down a Steampunk brewing device from overseas just to ensure the tea is meticulously made (you can see the Steampunk in action on the main bench – and yes, the machine is as dramatic and futuristic as its name suggests). “It gets water to exact temperatures and works with precision agitation and brew times for a super clean result which brings out amazing flavours and qualities in the premium teas we brew on it. It certainly wasn’t easy getting it installed remotely and there was a lot of angst from our poor plumber who worked tirelessly to get it up and running for us,” she says. “Our tea bar manager also had a lot of late-night Skype sessions to finesse things, but we’re thrilled with the end result and our customers are, too.”
They even hunted down those venue-perfect rabbit tea cups – which you can find on sale if you prefer your homewares with the wag of a bunny-tail.
This dedication is also obvious in the menu, which is a collaboration with Rabbit Hole’s owners and the chefs Cristy Adrian and Chelsea Logan, who are skilled at matching food to loose-leaf brews, as they previously worked at at The Tea Room in the Queen Victoria Building.
Tea is cleverly steeped all throughout the menu, from the strange-but-delicious Lapsang Souchong Wild Mushroom & Hummus Topped Toast ($15) (which you can pair with a cup of Ruby Zing) to Matcha Granola With Fruit & Yognurt ($15) and optional Matcha Milk ($2). Will’s favourite is the Slow Cooked Beef in Black Tea Sandwich ($16) – where the beef is slow-cooked overnight in a braising liquid of Assam black tea, herbs and spices and served with in-house pickled cauliflower and ‘glued in’ with oozy cheddar and tightly secured with toasted sourdough. Like all dishes, it’s available with a suggested tea (try it with Rabbit Hole’s multi-spiced Ginger Snap).
I’ve been to Rabbit Hole multiple times and one of the (many) highlights for me has to be the Almond Butter, Banana & Chai-Soaked Chia Seeds ($14), which is garnished with a bouquet sprinkle of cornflower petals, marigold or dianthus (depending on when you go), seeds that are steeped for hours in Rabbit Hole’s signature spicy chai and drizzles of maple syrup that add a luscious stickiness to the banana-and-nut-topped toastie.
These two dishes have been kept on the latest menu (which rotated over to summer mode after Rabbit Hole’s spring launch menu from October); other keepers have been the Breakfast BLT or HLT (Haloumi) on Milk Bun with Black Tea Relish ($15) and Pork with Spicy Mango, Red Cabbage & Cucumber Slaw on Milk Bun ($16). New additions include Green Tea Noodles with Sesame Vegetables & Earl Grey Vinaigrette ($16), Topped Toast With Smashed Beet, Fetta, Crispy Chickpea, Mint and Oolong Tea Infused Balsamic Glaze ($15), a Breakfast Plate with Lapsang Souchong-Cured Salmon ($18) and other summer-friendly items. I like that Rabbit Hole’s menu is light but boldly flavoured and slanted with a healthy touch – without the “wellness”-sermonising that can ruin wholesome food.
The excellent Dessert Degustation ($27), which matches four sweets with corresponding teas, has also received a seasonal reboot, too. In spring, we had a brilliant tea-and-treat pairing, when the Dessert Degustation teamed a Blooming Trifle of rose jelly, chamomile sponge and lavender-infused cream with a Spring-Bouquet-infused mug of rose, chamomile and white tea; Matcha Popcorn with Matcha-dusted Genmaicha (snap!); an Apple Taco with fruit and oolong-infused cream with Toffee Apple (the tea was a gorgeous crisp-fruit echo of the shredded-apple pastry) and a ‘Kinder’ Dome of chocolate mousse and “berry centre” going into a flavour-to-flavour smackdown with a Berry Bomb black tea.
The summer remix of the dessert degustation lines up a zesty Bombe Alaska with the Lime Pie tea (another slam-dunk pairing), Jaffa Oolong mousse with chocolate sponge and orange marshmallow gets teed up with peachy Tropical Paradise tea; a Peach Melba flaunting Opera House sails of peach over liquidy layers of raspberry and vanilla is nicely married with the Summer Fling pineapple, lime, coconut and black tea and a Jenga stack of Gingerbread Men was destined to go with the Ginger Snap brew.
You don’t even need dessert to enjoy a London Fog Latte ($5.50), a brew of Earl Grey and vanilla that tastes like drinking a thick, delicious milky cloud (that happens to be dressed with Calendula petals). By the way, you can find a constellation of different teas at this bar – from tea shots, tea sodas, tea mocktails, shrubs and more. On a summery day, the Ruby Zing Mojito (watermelon “smashed with hibiscus tea and sparkling apple juice”) and the Jasmine and Lychee Teajito ($8) are great heatwave-busters. There are also varying gradations and strengths to what you can order. You can opt for full, light or soy milk for your tea and skip the caffeine; or if you’re craving a coffee fix, the Rabbit Hole Chai Latte ($6) is an-espresso-spiked “dirty” chai.
And if you get something takeaway, the disposable cups come with their own plunger – this is how tea-serious Rabbit Hole is. (Not that you should be surprised. If you hadn’t already figured out how brew-focused the owners are, you should remember that Rabbit Hole has been wholesaling its own tea for more than five years and its owners helped co-found the Sydney Tea Festival.)
No wonder The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar is such a brilliant place. I was probably already susceptible to being a cheerleader for it, given how much I love tea. But the food is as much of a goal-score as the beverage selection, which means this venue is two-for-two great.
“The first day we opened, we got a handwritten note on a coaster which said ‘you have made something amazing in this place. I wish you all the success. I know I’ll be back! from a happy customer :)’. It’s on our fridge to remind us that all the hard work is being well received,” says Corinne. “We’ve also had a lot of tea lovers stop us in the Tea Bar and thank us for finally making something dedicated to tea drinkers.”
Just add your gratitude to the growing list – and toast (with your Jasmine and Lychee Teajito or bunny-shaped mug) the fact that this gem of a place exists in Sydney.