Inspiring People: Alison Dillon, Cup Above Tea

Did you know that the favours and aromas of tea are as complex as wine or coffee? It was this realisation that prompted Alison Dillon to create her company, Cup Above Tea. This is what she learned along the way…

1. Tell us your story:
I’m no different to most people who’ve upskilled, reskilled or done an about-face in their career and started their own business. While I love the corporate world and my global communication career, I felt like it was time to push further out of my comfort zone and finally start my own business – something I’ve always thought I’d do, but I just hadn’t always known what that business might be. Funnily enough it was my personal passion for champagne that actually sparked my tea journey, and ultimately, the launch of Cup Above Tea.

2. How did you identify the goals you wanted to achieve?
My weak spot for champagne coupled with a family connection to viticulture led me to learn more than my fair share about wine making. I came to understand how things like terroir, growing conditions, processing, innovation, tradition, skill and effort all combine to impact taste and quality. It was these concepts – provenance, craftsmanship and seasonality – that got me thinking about how this might apply to tea. I wanted to know why Darjeeling tasted and looked so different to English Breakfast. Why is black tea black and not green? What’s an oolong and why are there so many? How can some tea be worth upwards of $1000 for just a few grams? It was difficult to find answers. There were conflicting stories. Most tea merchants knew very little about what they were selling. So my curiosity got the better of me and I decided I would find out for myself.

3. How did you work towards achieving your goal?
I learned all I could on my own, but still had lots of unanswered questions, so I embarked on my ‘official’ tea training journey, completed my formal tea studies and headed abroad to more deeply immerse myself in processing, production and culture at tea gardens around the world. There is no better way to learn, than from the experts themselves and I was very fortunate to meet some wonderfully talented people who showed me so much and shared their time and expertise with me so generously. 

4. What was the biggest challenge you encountered along the way?
The more I learned, the faster I realised our palates have been putting up with inferior, mass produced tea for far too long. In the liquid world, we readily appreciate and understand the vast quality spectrum that differentiates a cask wine and a vintage bottle of aged red, or instant coffee and single origin fresh-roasted beans. There’s a tea spectrum too. But most of us are languishing at the wrong end of it. I knew there was a better option out there than most people are aware of so the challenge was set to introduce tea drinkers to what they didn’t even know they had been missing out on!

5. What inspires you and keeps you going when you encounter obstacles?
I’m inspired by the craftspeople who have spent lifetimes, and even generations, perfecting their skills. It’s a good reality check to think that excellence is earned over time, not instantaneously, and that can put things into sharp perspective. 

6. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to achieve a goal?
Perseverance and discipline are key, but equally important is celebrating and recognising yourself for your achievements. 

7. What are the next goals you hope to achieve?
Exciting things are happening later this year for Cup Above Tea, I can’t give too much away but it involves a brand new part of our website, lots of fun for our customers, and plenty of customisation. You’ll have to stay tuned! 

Alison Dillon is among the first to become a Certified Tea Master in Australia. Basically, this means she knows much more than the average person about tea. With her skills, knowledge, passion and business expertise she is steadily changing the way that Australians make their tea choices. 

She founded Cup Above Tea to place a focus on exceptional tea with outstanding provenance and incredible craftsmanship. This sort of tea is not the kind you find on chain store shelves, rather it is accessed via carefully developed relationships with artisans who produce the very best single-batch teas from a special collection of small family gardens around the world. 

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