You know that a lot of tea comes from China, and a bunch come from India. Japanese teas are becoming better known, as are teas from Taiwan and Africa. Don’t forget Brazil in South America. And then, there’s Australia! Yes, the land of kangaroos and koala bears also is the land of tea.
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.
“But,” you say, “tea needs a different growing climate than wheat.” How very agriculturally astute of you. Remember 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. 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.
One big tea garden there (Nerada) was started in 1886 by the Cutten brothers (Herbert, James, Leonard, and Sidney) in this 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.
Another major tea plantation is the Cubbagudta (meaning “rainy place”), established in 1978 by the Nicholas family and also in Queensland. It’s part of the Daintree Wilderness, has an annual rainfall of about 4 meters (around 12.5 feet) with temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees Centigrade (or Celsius, if you prefer). Combine that with alluvial red soils which produce a tea free of tannic acid, and a growing environment that makes pesticides unnecessary. All of this results in a naturally delicious cuppa! Some is sold under the label “Daintree Tea” and some under “Adore Tea.”
The Madura (meaning “paradise”) 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 to this tea drinker! 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. (More about green teas in the next article.)
Then, there is Nucifora, 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.
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!”
Read about some Australian tea traditions.
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