Bradley Cahill and Mafalda Moutinho of Casa De Cha on where Australian tea ranks in the rapidly growing global tea market.
The Australian tea industry has been evolving and gaining momentum with new growers winning awards nationally and abroad, year after year.
Although colonial Australians have been growing and producing tea since the 19th century, Australia’s true potential as a growing region was only realised around 20 years ago. This was a result of growing demand for green tea in Japan and Japanese companies looking to grow tea during their off season. Together with the Australian Government and the Department of Primary Industries, several test plantations were set up using Japanese tea plants and processing methods. These experimental plantations were very successful.
One of the first locations chosen for the original pilot program, due to its ideal climate, was Mangrove Mountain in New South Wales.
John Robb, a horticulturist and camellia expert, was the consultant to Mangrove Mountain, and helped propogate all the plants. He has travelled the world extensively to research tea production. He is a founding member of the Australian Green Tea Pty Ltd (AGTPL) and Chairman of the Austea cooperative and brand. Fourteen years on, Mangrove Mountain is no longer just an experiment but a thriving business and new source of pride for the community. The owners have even expanded the farm to double the size of the original plantation.
“The new branch of Austea was designed with the sole purpose of supporting and showcasing a carefully curated collection of only the best teas Australia has to offer,” says John.
“Additionally, both the AGTPL and the Austea cooperative were created to act as catalysts in the set-up, education, and development of this industry and its potential farmers, and assisting farmers who are interested to make a smooth transition from other crops into tea.”
A brilliant example of the potential Australia has a tea-producing country is Arakai Estate. Brendon and Kristie Collins started Arakai Estate using one hectare of the family’s sustainable timber farm. Over three years, they planted six different varieties of Japanese tea plants, normally used for production of green tea. This totalled about 12,500 tea plants. Good elevation, rainfall, and fertile soil with the correct acidity, together with a desire to do something different, were behind the farm’s success.
They use Taiwanese methods of tea processing and embrace their originality and ingenuity to create a completely new product. As such, Australia is now represented by a novel and eclectic take on tea processing besides its unique terroir.
“Our first commercial harvest and run of the processing factory was in September 2015,” Brendon says. “We were ecstatic with the final product and knew then that we were really onto something good.”
Samples were entered into the Australian Tea Masters’ Golden Leaf Awards for the first Australian International Tea Expo in Geelong, Melbourne. A panel of certified Tea Masters judged the teas, which were up against Australian and International entrants.
To Brendon’s complete surprise, he was awarded Best Australian Green Tea, Best Australian Black Tea, and the major prize of Best Green Tea from the international field.
“It has never been our aim to produce commodity tea. We will remain as a small-scale operation to ensure we produce the highest quality whole leaf tea possible,” Brendon says.
Hopefully, more entrepreneurs will follow in Arakai’s footsteps, and create completely new products and experiences that will continue to take the world by storm.
Brendon was involved in the initial pilot program managing the plantation propagating the plants, and working closely with the DPI during the early stages of the program and continues to.
He has helped set up Arakai Estate with their plants and equipment along with many other small to medium holders that have yet to harvest.
This article appears in the February 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE