In the article Some Australian Grown Black Teas, I looked at a few growers in the northeastern part of Australia in the state of Queensland. 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.
Japanese growers started looking about 10 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). The Manjimup Green Tea Company is now well-established.
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.
But there are challenges. 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
So, why the Manjimup/Pemberton area of Western Australia? Several factors:
- it is 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
The Madura (meaning “paradise”) plantation, another fairly well-known grower “down under” in the Tweed Valley (in northern New South Wales) started producing green teas in 1988 in addition to their black teas. They are one of the top producers in Australia now, with a reputation for quality.
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!
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