Why does single-origin tea have such a distinctive flavour

Foodies have recently shown a renewed interest in food provenance. Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from and what is exactly in it. And location can determine specific characteristics in flavour, often singling it out as a regional speciality.

Wine lovers may may be familiar with single-vineyard wines or with the French term ‘terroir’, which refers to a region’s climate, soil and terrain and how this impacts the taste of the wine. Wines made from the same grape variety but grown in the Barossa Valley will taste different to those from the Hunter Valley because of the variations in weather, soil and topography. Tea is the same. It is very much prone to the same variations in flavour depending on site selection.

Nerada’s black tea is all sourced from our Glen Allyn estate on the picturesque Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland. The estate is 360 hectares and it’s 100% pesticide free, which helped us gain our Rainforest Alliance certification status in 2018. From this site, we produce approximately 1.5 million kilograms of Australian grown tea each year.

There are not many teas that can make this single-origin claim, with many being blended from multiple sites. No other black tea producer in Australia makes this much black tea from the one site. Many other tea producers blend in components from overseas to help them make up the yields required to commercially produce their tea.

What makes single origin tea so special?

But what does this single-origin claim mean for you, the tea drinker? It’s important because the place in which a tea is grown influences its flavour. Even if the production process is similar, factors such as climate, soil and altitude can change how your tea tastes. Our Plantation Director Tony Poyner says, “When you taste Nerada tea you know it is distinctively Nerada. It has no bitterness, but has a lovely strong character and an orangey liquor.” Tony calls this the Nerada “house style”.

Tea is very site specific. We will always be uniquely Nerada Tea because of our growing conditions and soil types on the Atherton Tablelands. Volcanic topsoils, which are up to 1m in depth, help the tea plants to thrive. The yields may be less here, but the quality is higher. The climate is very temperate, where fluctuations in temperature are very small. This allows us to produce teas where the characters do not change much over a very long period allowing us to produce Australia’s freshest tea for our customers all year round.

For teas from multiple origins these variations in flavour can be ‘blended out’. Many other teas on the market come from multiple sites, meaning some of the tea may come from Australia, and some from India and China, for example.

Single-origin tea is not necessarily more expensive than blends, but in many circles it is a sign of a gourmet or more premium blend and often attracts higher prices than the mainstream blends.

Looking for variations in flavour

Weather changes do influence the volume of the crop – harvesting always happens when the bushes are ready, which can be every 21-35 days in the peak season. Our team taste every individual parcel daily, firstly without milk and then with, to ensure there is no bitterness and no inconsistencies between the parcels.

Nerada owns its processing plant so it can control what goes on there, as well as in the plantation, to ensure our house style is maintained. “When you’re manufacturing teas, every little part of the process has an influence on how the character of the tea is going to finally end up,” explains Tony. Manufacturing in the morning vs the afternoon can see differences in the length of time we need to oxidise so we need to monitor temperature closely to ensure that the flavour profile does not change.

When the tea arrives in our Malanda factory from the fields we monitor fluctuations in temperature and humidity that occur throughout the day to make sure the flavour profile doesn’t change. This is no small task as 80 tonnes of tea is processed each day at peak times. When our teas are sent to our Brisbane packing factory the teas are also tasted again before it goes into the packaging, be it teabags or loose leaf blends. Time from crop harvested to cup is very short, which helps to ensure freshness and quality.

Tony says there is only one slight downside with having a single-origin estate. “If you do have monsoonal periods or dry conditions you can have a slight change in your flavour profile.” So at different times of the year there is a subtle change in the taste of the tea, which is because of the forces of nature at play. The same occurs in other agricultural products sourced from the one place, making them very distinctive to their region. For Nerada, it’s part of the charm of producing Australian grown tea.