Today I had the pleasure of interviewing the gorgeous Sarita Merlo, founder of The Byron Bay Tea Company. Sarita is a herbalist, health advocate and passionate tea drinker. Her business has grown from humble beginnings of brewing tea for clients, intimate market stalls to now being found in cafes, restaurants, resorts, retreats and food stores all around Australia.
What is your background and how did you become a tea expert?
I am a herbalist and have always loved herbal medicine. I feel like we have amazing medicines at our fingertips, and I wanted to make herbal preparations available for people to enjoy and benefit. With this knowledge, I made herbal teas that benefited people’s health and made them palatable to drink through the mixing of spices, vanilla beans, and berries, to make some fantastic flavours. The taste was the key!
How did it all start?
It really was my love of herbal medicine that made me create the range of organic herbal tea blends. As an extension, I wanted also to cater to a wider group of people who enjoy tea. Technically herbal teas are not tea. So I also decided I wanted to offer regular teas as well. So I bought in traditional teas and then 2 -3 years later, I became fascinated with Oriental teas. Recently I have researched the benefits of the tea leaf and have become quiet interested in regular tea and it’s health benefits.
Has that overshadowed the other side of your business?
No, my passion is still the herbal tea blends. The wonderful thing about my herbal teas is that people don’t have to consult a naturopath to get the health benefits.
What is your Favourite tea?
My favourite tea is Digest. I created it for myself. I was going to fundamental food store in Byron Bay and weighing out different blends myself. Then I thought, there must be other people out there that love blended teas and the transition from that was thinking about the whole business.
Was it always your dream to have your own business?
Not entirely, but I knew from a young age I wasn’t going to be hopping on trains in Melbourne and dressing up in a suit, in the corporate world. Becoming a naturopath 15 years ago was quiet out there, as my grandfather was a medical doctor. My family didn’t embrace it at the time, but the turn around is amazing and my whole family are all on board.
I can see you have developed a new range of tea. How do you stay motivated and keep your brand evolving?
I need to keep abreast of the Australian tea drinking culture and what they are looking for. My observations have been that there has been a major, major shift.
Australia have become more of a tea drinking culture and over the last nine years we have seen these changes. Our product isn’t foreign anymore and is more the norm. The consumer has become more adventurous and very disconcerting. They want to know if it’s organic and what ingredients are in the tea. They know good quality tea and what wild crafted teas are. No longer can a cafe getaway with serving a tea bag in a pot and charge $4. Quality is the key!
We have noticed in particular with our business that Oolong white and green (oriental teas) have become increasingly popular due to their health properties.
What advice would you give to people wanting to start their own business or chase a dream?
I’m a big believer in following your heart. When I started Byron Bay Tea Company I was taking a punt but I had a passion for herbal medicine and it was that which was the driving force and still is behind my business. My passion lead me, then I learnt how to run a business along the way. I knew I couldn’t be doing something that I didn’t love or selling a product I didn’t love.
Do you have a favourite quote that you live by?
“Seize the day!”