How altitude impacts your cup of tea

It is well-known among tea enthusiasts that some of the most acclaimed teas are grown at high altitudes. Ceylon, Darjeeling and Assam are some of the most renowned teas in the world and can fetch astronomical prices at auction. But did you know that the Nerada tea plantation also sits at a relatively high altitude, similar to the best tea estates in the world? Our single-origin black tea estate is planted up on the Atherton Tablelands among Queensland’s highest mountain range, which gives our tea its superior flavour profile.

There are three categories of tea, determined by the altitude at which they are grown: low-grown, mid-grown and high-grown teas. We take a look at where Nerada fits and why the altitude of where your tea is grown has such an impact your tea of choice.

What makes high altitude tea distinctive?

Teas grown at higher altitudes are slower growing, allowing essential oils and character to build in the leaves. This slower growth rate gives enough time for any volatilities in the leaf to mature before it is picked, processed and packaged. A tea plant that grows slowly also has time to put down deep roots and is therefore a stronger, healthier plant, which is good news for the quality of the buds and leaves being harvested.

The distinctive imagery of tea plantations at high altitude in countries such as Sri Lanka, Kenya, India and China, which all produce high-quality teas that are very sought after on the global market, is not dissimilar to the terrain at Nerada. With Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere providing a spectacular backdrop, Nerada has one of the most elevated sites in Queensland at 740 metres above sea level. It sits among the World Heritage listed Bellenden Ker National Park, with the Russell River running throughout.

The Atherton Tablelands has a temperate climate, meaning fluctuations in temperature are small. These cooler temperatures act as natural pest control.

Nerada’s tea estate enjoys a healthy rainfall, but the slope of the site provides good drainage, which reduces the amount of moisture in the leaves concentrating and intensifying the flavour compounds of the tea.

Our Plantation Director Tony Poyner points out that “Tea is very much locality specific, it has a particular character due to its region. At Nerada we will always be characterised as a uniquely Australian, Glen Allyn tea because of our growing conditions, soil types, climate, variety and altitude. We are close to the equator and thus it is very temperate, and so there is a perfect marriage most of the year where the fluctuations in temperature are often very small.”

Tony notes that “We are very similar altitude to very good Kenyan grown tea. Good rainfall, cooler nights, altitude and volcanic topsoils, which are up to a metre in depth, gives us everything you could wish for here on the Atherton Tablelands. It produces slightly less yields but the quality is second to none. It’s not super high grown (which only produces one or two crops a year) but, because of the region, the character does not change over a long period. So when you drink a cup of Nerada black tea, you know it’s distinctively Nerada. It has a characteristic strong character, an orange liquor with milk, but without the bitterness.”

Growing tea at high altitude does, however, sometimes result in lower yields, but the aroma, flavour and character can not be matched – the quality is second to none. Generally speaking the higher the altitude the more perfumed the tea will be. It will also have better flavour characteristics, a bright full liquor and higher antioxidant levels.

How these higher altitude teas are grown and the manufacturing processes and techniques they undergo is what ultimately determines whether the sought-after characteristics of elevation come through in the cup – if you cut corners these characteristics will be lost. This is why Nerada has its own processing plant, to ensure exacting standards are met, and great care is taken of the tea plant at Nerada’s estate.

Plantations in low-lying areas, by the coast or located in areas that experience consistently high temperatures produce tea that tends to lack flavour, aroma, colour, and essential oils. This is because the tea plants grow too quickly and, as a result, lacks certain substances and aromas necessary to create a tea’s character. This usually ends up as filler teas, that is, part of a blend.

So next time you pour your favourite cup of tea, take a moment to think about where it is grown. It may surprise you to learn that Nerada’s home-grown black tea matches the quality of the best of the best.