Many Australian tea lovers might find it hard to believe that we even grow tea in Australia. And yet, in 2021, Nerada Tea will be celebrating 50 years of growing our pesticide-free black tea free right here in the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland.
As with so many other Australian agricultural products, there’s no doubt at all that quality starts at home, which is why we’re so proud to say that there’s no finer home-grown brew that can be found on our doorstep. What sets us apart is that, at Nerada, our tea’s journey from crop to cup can take as little as 28 days, meaning that the freshness and unique characters of Australian tea can be tasted in every cup!
Australian tea has an interesting history, and while many of us want to enjoy a tea that’s produced here, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to work out which home-grown tea brands to support.
So put on the kettle and make a pot of your favourite Australian brew, then discover all you need to know about Australian tea.
A short history of Australian tea
It’s reported that Australia’s traditional owners long had a love of tea, drinking an infusion from the plant species leptospermum (which is a different plant from the tea plant, camellia sinensis). Upon landing in Australia for the first time, Captain Cook noticed the Aboriginal peoples drinking it and called it tea. Today the plant is referred to as the ‘ti tree’.
With Britain’s longstanding tea culture, it’s no surprise that these traditions made their way to Australian shores. Alfred Bushell started the first tea shop in Australia in 1883, and soon after, the Cutten Brothers planted the first commercial tea plantation right here on our doorstep in Far North Queensland.
Politician and tea merchant James Inglis was the first to introduce Indian and Ceylonese teas into the Australian colonies in the 1880s. Before this, green tea or other styles of Chinese teas had been favoured. But Inglis was a canny marketer in his time, and his clever promotion of Indian black tea proved a great success, with Australians quickly taking up the beverage. One of the driving forces behind this was his advertising campaign in the early 1900s for Billy Tea, for which Inglis acquired the iconic bush ballad, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, using it for a series of campaigns during that period.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Australia’s own tea-growing industry started to thrive. Dr Allan Maruff settled in Innisfail in Queensland and was determined to reinvigorate it at Bingil Bay, collaborating with a number of growers to make a viable industry. In 1971, Nerada Tea was founded as a local conglomerate, and, by the 1980s, it saw the largest expansion of Australian tea production in the country’s history.
Since then, there have been many who’ve been prepared to face the challenges of Australia’s unique environment to produce high-quality tea. It’s taken drive and determination to make it succeed – often using unconventional methods – in order to compete with other tea-producing nations with very different terrains, climate and workforces.
Among them are some of Nerada Tea’s own pioneers, such as Tristan Russell, whose father had established Malaysia’s BOH Tea in the late 1800s. In the 1970s, Russell employed a young farmer with no tea-growing experience but plenty of ingenuity, Bill Benson, who proceeded to revolutionise tea production with his unconventional methods. Russell’s hunch that hiring someone without the traditional constraints around growing tea proved to be inspired. It worked and we’ve persevered with many of the original production techniques that were invented by Bill and his team.
Our current Plantation Director, Tony Poyner, who has been with Nerada for almost thirty years, has continued to pave the way to ensure Australia has a sustainable tea industry, with quality always the priority. He continues to develop innovative systems so we can compete with the best tea in the world. It’s because of these charismatic and determined characters that the Nerada brand remains preeminent in the Australian home-grown tea market.
What tea is grown and made in Australia?
At a time when we’re increasingly interested in where our food and other products come from and how they’re grown and manufactured, it’s important to focus on the best of our Australian brands. With confusing labelling laws that don’t make the country of origin mandatory on tea packaging, it’s worth knowing just who is growing and manufacturing our tea and how we can support them.
There are many places in Australia that are suitable for growing tea. The tropical rainforest region of Far North Queensland has been its natural heartland, and is where the majority of our tea is grown. In fact, it’s estimated that Nerada produces approximately 85-90% of all the tea grown in Australia. A pretty phenomenal statistic that we’re super proud of!
You’ll also find pockets of black and green tea being grown in Northern NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. These producers, often with small acreages, grow tiny quantities, which they package and sell through boutique outlets. Other brands, especially those found in the major Australian supermarkets tend to blend their teas with internationally sourced products, so you may discover that not all the tea leaves going into your favourite blend are 100% home-grown – with the exception of Nerada Black Tea.
This is because the confusion about what is actually Australian tea and what you’re drinking is frequently driven by marketing. Labels such as ‘Melbourne Breakfast’, ‘Australian Breakfast’ or ‘Sydney Blend’ splashed across tea brands especially those international brands such as Twinings Australian Afternoon tea which contains no Australian ingredients and is packed in China. This information can be misleading, as much of the tea, if not all will have been imported from overseas.
Iconic brands such as Bushells started as an Australian-based business, but in 1998, the brand was sold to Unilever (who also owns Lipton) and it contains no Australian grown tea whatsoever. Bushells’ tea is packed in Indonesia with imported tea, while Lipton packs much of its tea in the United Arab Emirates with imported ingredients.
Billy Tea, with its iconic retro packaging, is closely associated with Australia and its tea-drinking history, but sadly, just like Bushells, it contains no Australian grown tea, as most of it is sourced, blended and packed in India.
Tetley’s tea is packed in India with the tea being imported from multiple tea growing regions, sadly none being sourced from Australia.
Madura Tea, established in 1978, has 250,000 tea bushes growing in Northern NSW (as indicated on their website). Their tea is blended and packed in Australia, but only a very small proportion of the tea they need is grown here in Australia.
A true-blue Australian tea
It could not be more different for Nerada Tea. Our black tea is grown pesticide-free on a single-origin, 360-hectare estate (more than 3 million bushes on our Glen Allyn estate alone) on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland. Our production methods are unique, as we’ve had to think very differently to other tea-growing nations, particularly as we don’t have the manual labour force to enable us to compete with overseas producers.
Our tea fields, including the picturesque Tarakwet Estate, are located at the base of Queensland’s highest mountain range, and we’re proudly Rainforest Alliance certified. Here, plantation director Tony Poyner gives you a virtual tour of this special location.
How to tell if a product is Australian-grown
Our advice is to look out for the distinctive Australian-grown and made symbol on the side of the pack. It’s a great cue to know what percentage of your tea is grown here in Australia. Currently, this is not a mandatory requirement for tea packaging, but perhaps we should be convincing our regulators that this is something that needs to change. In many cases you’ll find that if the Australian grown symbol is absent, that the tea won’t be sourced from down under as why wouldn’t you be loud and proud.
It’s a small but loving bunch of farmers who make tea in Australia. Look out for some of our fellow tea growers who also make Australian grown tea.
- 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
What’s the best Australian black tea?
Naturally, we think Nerada produces the best black tea in Australia! If you’re keen to taste it for yourself, you’ll find our distinctive pack on the shelves of most Australian supermarkets. Alternatively, we have a range of Queensland-grown loose-leaf teas that you can purchase from our Nerada Tea Room or online.