Tea… from the farm to the cup

The phenomenon of paddock to plate continues to build in Australia as we live more mindfully and sustainably. Being more aware of where our food is grown, by whom and the story behind the farmers and producers of our commodities is one way to be more proactive about food ecology and ethical values in sourcing food. Across the board, generally, people are becoming more aware of the origins of purchases as they relate to our health, well-being, and the environment. We are considering fair trade practices, single-origin suppliers, and the ethos of the farms that produce our food. Smaller family-run farms are increasing in popularity as a source of ethical produce, and there is a genuine desire to know more about the story behind the food we buy, cook, and share..

With a cup of Tea in your hand anything is possible

Tea is one commodity that it is not always easy to establish where your tea leaves come from or what style of Tea leaves are in your favourite blend. Tea is becoming more boutique in nature as 100% homegrown Tea is produced by smaller companies. Not necessarily available in supermarkets, but their Tea is easily sourced online and in tea shops.

Nerada Tea is the only wholly Australian grown Tea available in mainstream supermarkets. There are many smaller Tea plantations from Tasmania up to far north Queensland, but they are limited in size and the Tea is mostly sold independently. Nerada produces 85-90% of all Australian-grown Tea. The marketing labels and laws are confusing in Australia and do not relate correctly to where the actual Tea was grown. Take Twinnings ‘Australian Afternoon Tea’ for example, it is not Australian at all and is labelled purely as a marketing gimmick and made for the Australian palate? . Even Madura Tea that has the logo

‘Madura Tea: Made in Australia, by Australians for Australia’

Madura Tea is grown in Australia, and the company is Australian, but the actual Tea is in part made from blends of Australian-grown tea leaves with Indian and Ceylon Teas.

The smaller tea farms or plantations selling Australian Tea are

  • Daintree Tea, in Far North Queensland
  • Alpine Tea Company, in Tawonga, Victoria
  • Two Rivers Green Tea, in Acheron Valley, Victoria
  • Tasmanian Tea Co, in Tasmania
  • Nucifora Tea, in Far North Queensland
  • Byron Bay Tea Company;
  • Red Sparrow Tea Company in Coffs Harbour;
  • Tinbeerwah Tea Company in the hills at Noosa
  • Arakaki Estate between Maleny and Woodford at Bellthorpe Beautiful Green tea. Arakaki Estate won the Australian Tea Masters Golden Leaf Awards for the best Australian black Tea and Australian green Tea this year. The plantation size is 1 hectare, with over 12,000 plants and just over 5km of tea hedges.  They harvest every 4 – 5 weeks from September to April.

The Australian Tea history is a story of lush tropical landscapes, dashed hopes, wild storms and devastation. Beginning in the 1880s when four brothers, James, Leonard, Sidney and Herbert Cutten, applied for a grant of land they hoped would become a Tea and Coffee plantation on the beautiful Cassowary Coast at Bingil Bay.

“Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world”
T’ien Yi-heng

Sadly, the estate was battered by severe storms, and in 1918, an enormous cyclone across the North Queensland coast accompanied by a tidal wave destroyed the establishing tea farm. Moving on to the 1950s, Dr Allan Maruff, an immigrant botanist from India, came to Innisfail in Queensland. He learnt of the Cutten Brothers’ lost plantation history and began a search deep into the rainforest, eventually discovering the surviving tea plants. The Camellia Sinensis plants had grown to 15 metres, and there were enough seedlings and seeds for him to begin a tea nursery n Innisfail. In 1858 Maruff bought 320 acres of land in the foothills of the Atherton Tablelands – Nerada Valley, where he planted the seedlings from Bingil Bay—eventually forming a partnership with Burns Philp in a venture called Nerada Tea Estates. The Tea factory closed in 1972 and was bought out by Burns Phillip, and the assets became Tea Estates Australia TEA. The new investors decided to move away from wholesale Tea sales and developed their brand in 1974 called Nereda Tea. By 1982 Nerada tea was available across Australia. By 1990 Nerada tea plantation grew to the 1,100 acres they have today with support and partnerships from the Russel family you can read about here.

Enjoy things with total intensity,Just a cup of Tea can be a deep meditation
Bhagwan Shree Rajnessh

Across the world, there is renewed focus on the health benefits of Green Tea and the trend toward a non-caffeine-based Tea. The 1990s saw several Japanese companies looking for land in Australia to expand the growth of Japanese-style Green tea production. Kunitaro a Japanese company bought 25 hectares in mangrove Mountain NSW where they now grow, harvest and export Green Tea to Japan for packaging and sale.

The iconic household Tea such as Bushells once Australian-owned, and part of our early settlement history, since 1998, owned by Unilever. Liptons another iconic brand is also owned by Unilever; neither brand have any Australian Tea in their products. Not even the Billy Tea that was once a part of every campfire is not Australian. Billy Tea is sourced, blended and packaged in India. Tetleys is another big Tea name. Tetleys Tea is packed in India with blended teas from different growing regions, none being Australia. Madura Tea, established in 1978, has 250,000 tea bushes growing in Northern NSW. Madura and Nerada are the only large Tea brands available in supermarkets with Australian-grown tea in the blend. The tea is also packaged here by Australian companies.

The millennials and Gen Z are becoming popular Tea drinkers. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., 87% of American Millennials drink tea. Although their tastes are different from a classic cuppa, preferring a more sensual and healthy lifestyle beverage instead. Perhaps a handcrafted, artisan tea blend or an exotic Chai latte or single-origin Japanese Green Tea. The Tea industry has significantly changed to meet these demands and this group of consumers are driving demand for new innovative tea flavours. There is more focus on innovative earthy ingredients in Teas such as matcha, turmeric, ginger and cumin, plus flavours based on fruits and flowers like hibiscus, raspberry, watermelon, mango, and rose. The result is a wealth of variety in teas, tea blends and tea flavours appearing with more floral and botanical Tisanes and herbal teas, and a significant emphasis on Green Tea.

In recent times another aspect of the Tea industry is a growing trend in producing soft drink style ready-to-drink iced teas and new varieties like Kombucha, milk teas and boba tea. Millennials and Gen Zs are also keen on knowing the full story of Tea and any specifics behind their favourite style. They like to know about the growers, their farms or any unusual ways the Tea is processed or made. They are enthusiastic and interested in the entire tea experience.

Today’s tea-savvy consumers want three things

A great authentic story behind their Tea purchase

A high quality Tea such as single estate artisanal tea.

A Tea with health benefits

On the other hand, Australians are keen on heritage. They prefer brands they know, like Twinnings and T2, both instrumental in offering a selection of specialty teas and reinforcing Tea as much more than your humble black teabag. Even though Australians love their coffee, specialty tea drinkers are keen to be part of a new cool community of tea drinkers.

Every time you buy organic you are persuading farmers to grow organic

Another Tea trend in recent times is the push for a return to teapots and loose-leaf tea because of the effects of poor-quality teabags and suspicions that the tea we drink contains plastic particles from either the bag itself or the sealant used. The issue is that tea bags are sealed with a plastic-based glue – polypropylene that makes them non-recyclable or compostable. The plastic in teabags will break down once heated, causing plastic particles to go into the cup. The safest way to use Teabags is to use tea bags that are entirely biodegradable, plastic-free, organic or made with plant-based materials. There is also a phrase to look out for when choosing teabags that says ‘free of epichlorohydrin,’ a chemical to prevent teabags from breaking down.

Life is like a cup of Tea it’s all in how you make it

Also, tea bags are said to be made of tea fannings which are the leftover inferior smaller tea leaves. Several of the larger Tea wholesalers have changed from plastic-based glues to a “renewable, plant-based bio-polymer” made from cornstarch. Which Tea brands are plastic-free find out here? Also, check this video out from an article in The Healthy Home Economist How to Use Toxic Teabags Safely (and which brands are safe to use).

Content Di Baker 2022

Images courtesy of Pexels.com