Greetings, fellow tea lovers!
Thanks to movies like Crocodile Dundee, we tend to think of Australia in terms of wild critters, native tribesmen dancing their ritual dances, and raucous behavior by the locals. However, Australia has a thriving agriculture, including millions of acres planted in wheat. Tea doesn’t seem so strange when you know that.
Remember also that Australia is not only a country, but also a continent, in fact, the only country on the planet that can make that claim — for now, at least. They are large enough to have several climate zones, just as the U.S. has. Thus, a number of areas have been found suitable for tea growing.
Note: There are many sites online with information about teas from Australia. No one site has it all. We have visited many of these sites and consolidated the information into a more easy-to-reference format. This took several weeks of dedicated effort. Since a lot of rewriting was done, we cannot footnote in an official manner. Thanks for understanding.
Some Australian Tea Gardens
The state of Queensland in northeastern Australia has a section in its northernmost area called the Cairns Highlands. The region is considered tropical and consists of lush, misty hills. The rich volcanic soil, plentiful rainfall, and high altitude makes this area ideal for growing quality tea to rival others throughout the world. But other areas have been shown suitable for tea growing, too. Time to go exploring.
Click on each photo to see details:
A big tea garden in Queensland started in 1886 by the Cutten brothers (Herbert, James, Leonard, and Sidney) in a tropical region near what is now known as Bingal Bay. They persevered through cyclones, drought, and labor shortages, until the mother of all cyclones hit in 1918 and brought a tidal wave with it that wiped out the tea garden along with their other crops. The tea plant survivors, grown to a height of 15 meters (about 47 feet), were discovered in the early 1950s by Dr. Allan Maruff in the rainforest. He collected seeds and seedlings to start a tea nursery on the land behind his doctor’s surgery in Innisfail. These plants are still growing today, offspring of those original plants brought to Australia over 100 years earlier.
“Cubbagudta” means “rainy place.” The tea plantation was established in 1978 in Queensland by the Nicholas family. It’s part of the Daintree Wilderness, has an annual rainfall of about 4 meters (around 12.5 feet) with temperatures at 25-35°C. Combine that with alluvial red soils which produce a tea free of tannic acid, and an ideal growing environment. All of this results in a naturally delicious cuppa! Some is sold under the label “Daintree Tea” and some under “Adore Tea.”
“Madura” means “paradise.” The plantation is another fairly well-known grower “down under.” Located in the Tweed Valley (in northern New South Wales) amidst rainforests and flowing rivers, it has more than 250,000 tea bushes — an astounding number! The plantation was established in 1978 and is the first one in a sub-tropical area of Queensland. In addition to processing black teas, they were the first to start producing green teas in 1988.
A plantation covering 150 acres near Innisfail in Queensland where the soil is rich and produces a top quality tea. Only the tender young tips are harvested, a tradition they have carried on during their 15 years in business. The plantation is divided into three sections that are on a harvest cycle, so they continuously harvest and process. Once one section is done, the next is ready to start on. They use a machine harvester designed by one of the owners and built in Innisfail.
A family tea farm in the upper reaches of the picturesque Kiewa Valley at Tawonga. It is a short distance from the Kiewa River, supplying plentiful and pure water for the fertile soil. They grow tea plants (Yabukita – more info here) suitable for producing Japanese style green teas for the Australian market. They also produce the tea leaves, unlike other growers who ship partially processed tea leaves to Japan for finishing. Their sencha is refreshing with a mellow aroma and a balance flavor of sweet and bitter (some call this “umami”). It is also high in antioxidants, said to be healthy.
Part of the ITO EN tea company. They grow tea plants in Australia for producing Japanese style green teas, producing matchas, senchas, and bottled teas. Their history started back in November of 1993 when they started research into growing tea in Victoria after being invited by the Victorian Government. Planting began in May of 2001 after testing and negotiations had been worked out. A factory was built in 2004 and began processing tea leaves in October of that year. In 2008 a second processing line was added. Today, they are a leading tea manufacture in the country but remain focused on exporting to the Japanese market.
A family farm of about 12 hectares northeast of Melbourne in the Acheron Valley. It sits at the junction of the Acheron and Goulburn Rivers. The fertile soil is well-drained and benefits from the nearby river for irrigation. The area has 4 distinct seasons, each important for the tea quality. Frost is a challenge, but the owners have learned to deal with it, as have other tea growers in the area. They use rotting chicken manure as a fertilizer, a tricky proposition at best that can lead to e-coli or salmonella if not processed properly before applying it to the soil around the tea plants. A safer and surer alternative is commercially produced fertilizer which is sadly being unjustly vilified.
Planting of 170,000 tea plants began in 2001.
- Sayamakaori Tea – recognizable by the deepest of green leaf color. (More info here)
- Yabukita Tea – the most widely grown variety in Japan and particularly high in antioxidants, providing many health benefits. (More info here)
- Okuhikaori Tea – bred from Yabukita and possibly the most attractive and hardiest. (More info here)
Owners are Will and Georgie Leckey. They switched from growing fodder crops and raising cattle that provided protein-rich beef to the comparatively easy and more secure (market-wise) task of tea farming. Harvesting is done be a machine that crawls along row after row, cutting off the top 12cm from each bush. The fresh cut leaves are sent to the Wangaratta factory for processing (steaming, rolling, drying). First flush produces the leaves for the highly sought-after shincha tea, which means “new tea” in Japanese. Second flush is harvested in late Summer, yields the full-bodied sencha tea.
Some Australian Grown Black Teas
The majority of Australian-grown tea is processed by machine and fermented to a dark brown (what we call “black tea”). Most is bagged, but some is available in loose form. Some tea is imported from other countries and blended with the Australian tea. Brands that include black tea from Australia include Twinings and a number of others.
Try a cuppa sometime of any of these. They could have you saying “G’day, mate!”
Click on each photo to see details:
See also: Tea Traditions from Various Countries.
Some Australian Grown Green Teas
You saw the black teas above. Now, let’s look at a growing sector of their tea production and one that is becoming increasingly important for them: green teas, which has grown to about 1/5th of all their tea exports with a lot of it going to Japan.
Click on each photo to see details:
Tea Growing in Queensland, Australia
Queensland is a wet tropics highlands area with rich volcanic soils. The teas grown there benefit from rainfall, humidity, and altitude – the perfect growing conditions producing teas highly sought by tea connoisseurs. The area dates back to when Australia was connected with what is now South America (about 165 million years ago). The huge landmass was covered with thick rainforest, which have remained relatively unchanged since ancient times. Tea growing began much more recently – in the late 1800s (about the same time that it began in the Darjeeling area in India). An area especially renowned for tea growing in the Daintree rainforest, where tea growing started in 1978. Tea is produced year round.
The tea plant varietals grown in Australia have been bred to be pest resistant and is naturally low in caffeine. The tea leaves are harvested by machines and then taken to modernized factories that are kept clean and that follow strict controls for hygienic conditions. From harvest to finished tea takes about 20 hours, keeping the tea as fresh and aromatic as possible.
Tea Growing in Victoria, Australia
As tea farms in Japan dwindled due to less available land and fewer young people wanting to stay on those farms, the Japanese began exploring other parts of the world for tea growing. The proximity of Australia as well as the availability of sufficient land area caught their attention. In the 1990s, they zeroed in on Victoria and New South Wales, trying out various plants until hitting on the right ones. Now, several farms operate, growing the tea plants and processing the leaves according to Japanese standards to supply that market as well as around the world.
One such place is Matthew’s farm in Alexandra, about two hours out of Melbourne. The owner had switched from raising cattle and providing quality beef to growing green tea for ITO EN’s processing factory in Wangaratta, which mostly does basic processing before shipping the tea leaves to Japan. It took 4 years of hard work and careful nurturing to get the plants large enough to harvest his first crop. Frost prevention is key, but they also had to monitor soil nutrients, amino acid and tannin levels in the plants, and proper irrigation.
Another nearby farm near Mt. Beauty has switched from growing tobacco to tea. Harvesting is done by machine but is rather slow and delicately done to get only the bud and two top leaves.
Tea Growing in the Manjimup/Pemberton Area of Western Australia
Japanese growers started looking about 15 years ago at the Manjimup/Pemberton area of Western Australia for the cultivation of a varietal of the tea bush better suited to producing green (unoxidized) tea: the Camellia sinensis sinensis (versus the Camellia sinensis assamica from which Assam black tea is produced).
Green tea drinking is on the rise as the health claims mount, especially in Australia and Germany, but also in the U.S. In addition, Japanese demand for green tea remains steady at 100,000 tons per year with a decline in domestic production, especially in light of the concern, legitimate or not, of tea bushes being exposed to radiation from the tsunami-induced Fukushima nuclear plant failure. They currently import 11,000 tons per year, but that is expected to keep rising.
Thus the importance of this area of tea production for Australian growers.
Australia has the land, the interested farmers, and is close enough to Japan to get the tea there in a fairly fresh state. Plus, the Japanese prefer the quality of green tea from Australia to the tea imported from other countries.
The Camellia sinensis sinensis varietal has several key differences from the Assam varietal that make growing them a different matter:
- their leaf edges are more apparently serrated
- the bushes are smaller and grow more slowly
- they have 3 or 4 flushes (periods of active growth) per year
- they are more cold tolerant
- a dormant period is needed to produce a distinctive first flush in mid to late Spring
- the leaves can be steamed to prevent oxidation/fermentation and then dried
Why the Manjimup/Pemberton area?
- similar to the prime Shizuoka area of Japan in latitude, soil acidity, and annual average temperature (15° C)
- Summer temperatures usually do not exceed 35° C
- frosts are fairly uncommon and come mainly in Winter during plant dormancy
- the soils are well-drained gravelly loams
- quality water is usually available for irrigation in the warmer months
- the level of smog and pests is much lower than in Japan
- Australia has fewer cyclones and earthquakes
Green tea plantations were established near Gosford (north of Sydney) in 1998 by the Japanese company Kunitaro Company Ltd. and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries. Their tea quality is said to be excellent and is targeted to the high value gift market in the New Year period in Japan and other Asian countries. The company aims to increase the hectares planted on the Central coast and lower Hunter Valley and establish a large scale processing plant at Somersby on the Central Coast.
There is also a shincha from a grower outside the town of Wangaratta. It is said to rival those grown in Japan. Who knows what will be next!
There are a ton of online vendors from which you can choose to buy teas from Australia. Read carefully, though, since many of the teas these sites sell are NOT from Australia. There are also products like the Twinings Australian Afternoon Tea, which appears not to contain ANY tea grown in Australia. Buyer beware. Get the real thing!
Happy hunting, humans. TOOOT!
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Hi, humans, this site is under my editorial excellence. I, your lovable and sassy Little Yellow Teapot, authors articles on tea, etc., and edit the occasional guest article. All in the interest of helping you humans have a better tea experience. TOOOT!