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End of an era for Central Market tea salon

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Adelaide Central Market institution T BAR tea salon will close at the end of next month as the owners focus on other arms of the SA family business, including its Rundle Place shop and Torrensville-based wholesale operation.

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The tea salon has traded at its Central Market location at 44 Gouger Street for 20 years, and Tony George – co-owner of T Bar with his wife, sister and brother-in-law – acknowledged that many South Australians would be sad to see it go.

“I can feel that, but you’ve got to prioritise what you’re going to do and that’s what we’ve done … we would have loved to have stayed on there.”

George said the Rundle Place T BAR shop would continue trading, and the business would increase public sales direct from its warehouse in Torrensville with the conversion of an office into a retail space.

The wholesale operation has become a growing focus for T BAR, which started exporting its teas to the United States around a year ago and also supplies numerous South Australian supermarkets, hotels and other clients.

Nonetheless, there is considerable nostalgia attached to the Central Market tea salon, which was T BAR’s first retail premises and opened around six years after the family had established the popular Zuma Caffe in the market.

“That’s where it all started – it was the beginning of the whole T BAR,” George said.

“We started Zuma first, 26 years ago, and once we established that we thought, ‘What’s next?’

“We grew up with tea and nobody was really doing tea so we said, ‘Let’s bring tea to Adelaide’, and now it’s gone everywhere.”

They later opened a second T BAR outlet in Adelaide Central Plaza, Rundle Mall, where it operated for about 10 years before moving to the new Rundle Place shopping centre.

While the Central Market tea salon – located on the site of what was previously a butcher’s shop – has changed little in appearance over the years, its menu and retail offerings have.

When the shop first opened, there was no coffee or teabags to be seen, but they were introduced to cater for customer demand.

“We were very against the whole teabag thing, but we resorted to buying our own teabag machine and we’re now producing teabags – we’ve also rolled out biodegradable ones,” George said.

T BAR’s range of teas has also grown from around 80 to 120 different blends.

More recently, George said, there has been a noticeable revival in demand for traditional and high-end teas, including Darjeeling and Lapsang Souchong – a smoky tea that was Winston Churchill’s favourite.

When the Adelaide Central Market tea salon closes on June 29, current employees will transfer to other roles at the Rundle Place shop, Zuma or the Torrensville warehouse.

George said T BAR teas would also still be available at the market through a number of other retailers, as well as online.

“It’s been a great journey, and this is one chapter … but there’s a new chapter about to begin.”

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