HANNAH MILLER - SUN ON LEAF
I grew up in Mandurang, just south of Bendigo. Our house was a passive solar mud brick built by my parents and grandpa. It amazes me how they managed to put it together with two children. Mum (retrospectively) assures me it was a bit crazy. For the first 2 years of my life, Dad was stomping around in a half iron tank making mud bricks. It’s still one of my favourite homes. In winter the sun floods in. In summer it stays cool without air conditioning. There is not a white surface in sight.
My childhood was fun. We’d swim in the dam, catch yabbies, wander off into the bush, make cubbies. The sprinkler ran all summer set up under the trampoline. A few times a year, we’d go to Gunbower Island to visit my grandparents. It was an hour's drive past an old roadside fridge on the other side of the whipstick. Their house was perched on a sand hill, and swam in greenish light at dusk, from a wine bottle light which hung near the gate. It was pure childhood paradise. Rivers, swamps, lawn tennis, billy carts, secret rooms, river red gums, frogs at night. I even had free reign over the biscuit barrel.
In high school I had a group of girl friends (still dear). A bunch of dags who all lived out of town. Driving paddock bombs and sleeping out was a normal weekend but we also made a volleyball team. We thought we were pretty good, and cleaned up most tournaments. Even though I had a good childhood, I’d never wish to be a teenager again. So confusing, so many pimples.
After school, not knowing what I wanted to be or do, I went to Uni. I liked being outdoors and that was all I knew, so I chose to study a Bachelors Degree of Outdoor Education. I came out with some of the best experiences of my life, an ability to think more critically, some steadfast friendships, a beautiful fella whose skiing and writing skills knocked my socks off (we now have 3 children), heaps of climbing gear and...no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I worked in Outdoor Education for a while, but I never felt that relaxed being so responsible for people's lives, especially with them dangling from the end of ropes (living in a tent was wearing thin too). I travelled for a bit, and came home with a new agenda. I was going to be an architect! Then I realised I’d need to go to Uni for another 5 years, so I settled on a Diploma of Building Design and Technology at RMIT. I still work as a drafts person and would probably call this my main profession but being a mother is obviously more time-consuming, challenging and exhausting.
Sun on Leaf was dreamed up 8 months after my twins were born. I stood in my kitchen feeling overwhelmed. I was only wearing one sock, couldn’t seem to complete even the most simple task. I was doing everything badly. I told myself that if I could just make a cup of tea, the most simple gesture, and do it well, then I’d feel more like a person. The idea snowballed quite unexpectedly.
A typical work day is Tuesday or a Wednesday when my 3 kids are in other people's hands. I’m usually woken early by little feet stuffing their way into my clothing. Kids don’t tend to ease into the day, it’s straight up chaos. I have to admit to coffee addiction. Once the kids are dropped at kinder / daycare, I sit in the car and breathe for 10 seconds then head home to prioritise. Some days I have drafting work that is urgent, so I’ll sit at the computer and draw until 4pm. Other days, tea orders are a priority so I’ll spend the day ordering, blending and packing. Generally though I draft by day and Sun on Leaf by night.
The highlight so far has been seeing Sun on Leaf warmly accepted into cafes and people’s homes. It started more as an experiment, but has proven itself as a brand without the use of marketing. I love my customers and the cafes I supply. They are beautiful establishments run by wonderful people. The whole thing is a joy. I’m also really grateful for our supportive community which seem to embrace local and support small business. I can’t imagine starting something like this in Melbourne.
My biggest challenge is finding time for it all. I live in a constant process of triage; kids, draft, tea. I just have a terrible affliction for doing a bit too much. I’m not proud to say I’m busy, I respect people who enjoy, and can make time for, nothingness.
I have many favourite teas. In the morning I generally drink Castlemaine or Rwandan Breakfast, with or without milk. Around lunch, a pot of Yunnan Oolong, Genmaicha or White Needle. After dinner it’s always herbals. My current favourite is a blend of chamomile, spearmint, lavender, licorice, and rose hip (Wilpena). I also love Celestial Sleepy Time. This is an abbreviated list.
Be wary of anyone that tells you the their way is the only way. You should drink tea in whatever manner you choose. Leaf, bag, pot, billy, chawan, flask, from a bucket. I don’t judge. I didn’t become interested in tea to refine people's taste. I just wanted to find out what makes tea taste really really good. But if you’re asking how I drink my tea, on a non-rushed day, then here is what I do:
Get a pot and cup that make you happy (this is half the enjoyment). I have a Ghostwares pot I adore and plenty of handmade ceramic cups. Cup snob
Choose high quality leaves, the fresher the better. The full leaf and bud are regarded as the most sought after for their delicate flavour.
Warm and rinse the pot with boiled water
Steep the leaves in pot at the correct temperature for a short time and remove leaves to avoid the whole pot becoming bitter (unless herbal, I leave the leaf in forever, sometimes to drink the next day). A stronger tea is achieved by adding more leaves, not steeping for longer.
Find a sunny spot, maybe a friend.
The Japanese concept, from the way of tea 'Ichi-go, ichi-e', meaning 'one encounter, one opportunity', is an ideal I aspire to. Drinking tea is a constant reminder that every moment should be treasured.
When not working, I’ll be in the bush, or on my clanky old piano belting out a melancholy tune. I’ve also just started an aerial circus class in Castlemaine which is amazing. I’m re-discovering my arm muscles.
My favourite places in the goldfields region are Mt Alexander, Walmer bush lands, Muckleford station, the view from the Old Goal. There is nice bush land basically everywhere! I also feel so lucky to live in a town with so many amazing eateries and a beautiful theatre. When the kids get bigger I plan on spending more time in those places.
Advice for tree changers: get good at a quick hello if you ever want to get your shopping done and still have time left in the day for anything else. Maybe gets some blundstones too. Very practical and Castlemaine- fashionable.