Growing up around Irish food philosophies, Ashleigh Cotterill was amused by friends who swore by supplements and protein powders. Although she leaves each to his own, she does believe in the medicinal properties of food. Herbs and spices have been used for healing by cultures around the world across civilisations and modern understanding of their curative properties backs this practice.
The Irish-born marketing executive and artist began actively propagating this in 2014 after her son was born, selling herb and vegetable seeds under the Balcony Bloomer brand in farmers’ markets around Bondi and the Gold Coast while living in Australia. Balcony Bloomer carried herbs such as basil to lower blood pressure, coriander to reduce inflammation in the joints, and mint and chilli to increase metabolism. As sales increased, so too did customer requests and subsequent ideas.
“Customers were asking if they could use the herbs to make tea, so I began looking into the quantities of leaves required,” she says from the Tea Bird Tea pop-up store in Bangsar Shopping Centre. “It wasn’t feasible with the plant sizes you’d grow at home, but it seemed a natural progression for the business.”
Cotterill sourced herbs, roots and spices from around the world, and worked with a blender in Melbourne to create flavourful tea blends with specific health benefits under the label Tea Bird Tea. The name was derived from one of her paintings and art is infused throughout the company’s operations, from the striking tins wrapped in original artwork to hosting artists in residence — an initiative she started when her husband was relocated to Malaysia three years ago.
A strong local tea-drinking culture welcomed her range of hand-packed, caffeine-free, organic teas packaged in compact travel tins, refill packs and collectible tins. Retail prices range from RM20 to RM85 and favourite flavours include the Colon Cleanse, Alkalizing PH with Turmeric, Ginger Snap, Lemongrass & Ginger and Frankincense Organic Teas. However, her fans today extend well beyond local borders. Stocked in over 20 supermarkets around the Klang Valley, Cotterill also just launched in Singapore and has distribution plans for Bali and Borneo in the books. Online orders through her website reveal a huge fan base in the US, particularly in California.
“We just released an exclusive blend for fashion label Lisa Von Tang in Singapore to enhance the boutique experience for customers,” says Cotterill, who can customise tea blends and packaging for special occasions.
“We put a lot of thought into the experience, with specific blends for different times of day.” Spicy morning tea Firecracker Fatburn accents green tea with peppermint, lemongrass and chilli; antioxidant-rich Vanilla Rooibos with organic vanilla beans, rose petals and pear is served at noon; and the cleansing Lemongrass & Ginger is the perfect after sunset wind-down.
At the quirky Tea Bird Tea House in Bangsar, which serves as her office and walk-in boutique, this season’s artist-in-residence, Sharon Yong Abdullah, has her work displayed on the walls as well as on tins of the intensely fragrant Hibiscus and Vanilla Tea blended specially to celebrate the collaboration.
“The scent is part of the experience,” says the founder. “We use the most flavourful parts of ingredients such as lemongrass, nettle leaves, hibiscus and dandelion roots, which are more expensive but translates into notably greater quality. We don’t add scents or flavoured tea leaves. Instead, we use the best parts possible of natural ingredients for maximum flavour and health benefits. Our biodegradable teabags are packed with 0.5g of tea instead of the 0.3g found in conventional teabags. The label might say 20 cups, but you could easily get twice that with our quality and quantity.”
Cotterill designs the intended benefits and flavour combinations, and the Melburnian blender works its magic on ingredients and ratios. “Our most unique blend is probably the Alkalizing PH with Turmeric,” she says. “It has lumps of pure turmeric mixed with ginger, fennel, cinnamon, liquorice and dandelion leaves, so it has a deeply herbaceous but almost sweet flavour. Customers love it because it reduces the effects of acid reflux. Several of them also swear by our Liver Detox blend with organic ginger, burdock and dandelion roots and nettle leaves for flushing out toxins and decreasing sluggishness.”
Just as she curates blends for well-being — Tea Bird Tea also has 5, 10 and 21-day Teatox programmes — a percentage of proceeds from sales are channelled towards Fugee School, an education hub for refugee children. In the interest of being more environment-friendly, paper bags will soon replace aluminium packs and refills will be available at zero-waste, bulk-food provision centres such as The Hive in Bangsar.
“You can purchase the tins just once and then keep refilling it,” says Cotterill. “The travel-sized tins do very well. Maintaining digestion while travelling can be tricky and you shouldn’t drink bad tea in good hotels. While the teabags are convenient, travel tins allow you to carry your favourite loose leaf tea on the go. It’s like what they say about Apple [products]; once you go Mac, you never go back. The same goes for loose leaf teas.”
This article first appeared on July 9, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.