Arakai Estate is the family owned tea farm in Bellthorpe, Australia. They are going to have the fourth commercial harvest in 2018, and they have already managed to create award-winning unique teas. We cannot even describe the amount of happiness when receiving their tea samples a few weeks ago, not only because they were made in Australia. Their teas have unique character and flavour, ready to compete in a tea market where teas made in China and Japan still have the highest value. Arakai Estate has extremely friendly approach and is more than passionate about their tea.
We had a chance to talk to Brendon, the owner of the Arakai Estate.
Tea Chronicles: Brendon, thank you very much for agreeing on a short interview for Tea Chronicles. Your teas made us extremely happy and very curious. Can you tell us how did the whole story start? Why did you decide to grow tea in Australia?
Brendon: It’s my pleasure Iva.
There’s many reasons for us choosing to grow tea but foremost we wanted to do something new and different – new to us and new to the area – there’s no other tea producers in our region or anywhere near us.
We also needed something that worked in with our other ventures on the farm (avocados and timber growing/milling), both of which are mainly done through winter which is when our tea goes dormant.
We also wanted something that we could control from growth to retail, both for quality control and removing middlemen. Seeing as there are no other tea growers/processors in the area we really had to do everything ourselves including building and installing a processing shed here on the farm. My Dad and I work really well together when it comes to problem solving and we’ve had a lot of problems to solve! We are able to do our harvests with just the two of us over a period of 4-5 days.
Once we started looking into tea growing we could see that our property and climate were ideal – good soil pH, great rainfall and sub-tropical climate. We are at 580m above sea level so it also gets cold enough through winter to have a good dormant period – this is important for flavour especially of the first Spring harvest.
We could see that there was a big gap in the Australian market for a high quality whole leaf tea – we import a lot of tea here
A few other points – we love the aesthetic of a tea plantation, in fact I haven’t found anyone that doesn’t. Everything we do here is not only practical but is aimed at improving the visual appeal of the property.
My Mum and Sister are avid tea drinkers (read: addicts) – it helps that I can keep them in supply!
Tea Chronicles: Australia is not a traditional tea producing country. What is the perception of Australian people towards real tea? Did you find more interest from people in Australia or abroad?
Brendon: You’re not wrong there! Australians for the most part drink cheap, low quality tea so there is a bit of a mental and cost-barrier for us to get through. The trend is definitely improving though with a lot of high quality online tea stores opening up as well as restaurants offering something a bit better than a teabag in a teapot. The most interest has been from overseas, we are currently exporting to four countries where high quality tea is a bit more the norm.
Tea Chronicles: Your teas are very interesting and unique. You are using Japanese cultivars on Australian land. Why did you choose those cultivars?
Brendon: Unfortunately they are all that was available to us! It’s very hard and expensive to bring new plant varieties into Australia due to very strict biosecurity rules. While I’m sure there are some other Chinese and Assam varieties growing in the country they are not commercially available through nurseries. We would love to have some Oolong or Assam tea varietes growing but we are at our limit right now with the six Japanese varietals.
Tea Chronicles: You have received a lot of awards for your teas (and you really deserve them). Do you think there is a space for Australian grown teas on the tea market? Where do you sell your teas?
Brendon: Thank you! There is definitely space for Aus-grown tea in both the local and world market. We are blessed with a very clean and green country and there is a reputation that goes with Australian produce, especially in Asian markets. Specific to tea – we don’t have the pests or disease issues that they have in large tea growing areas so no need for any sprays on the plants.
Our tea is available in cafe’s, restaurants and online retailers all over Australia as well as through online sellers in England, USA, Canada, Singapore with hopefully a few more coming soon.
Tea Chronicles: You seem to be very transparent in what you are doing and dedicated to continue producing single origin artisan teas. So far, Arakai Estate has been producing green and black tea. Are other tea types in plan?
Brendon: We like to tell people as much as possible about how we do things – people are really interested in where their food comes from now so it helps to be open about it – including the parts that are not so great like mistakes we’ve made or parts of the process that we still need to improve upon.
We are continually experimenting with different processing methods to create new types of green and black teas, but what we really need to get into is making blends with our tea to create some new flavours and product lines.
Tea Chronicles: Is it possible to visit Arakai Estate?
Brendon: Yes we are open for visits by appointment. With a large farm and many other things happening we cannot guarantee that we are available for drop ins so we ask that potential visitors arrange a day and time so we can give them a good tour and tea tasting.
Tea Chronicles: And as the last question, what is your favorite tea?
Brendon: From our own teas I love our 2015/16 Spring Flush Green and the 2016/17 Premium Black.
From the great wide world of tea I find it hard to go past a good Oolong, Da Hong Pao or Tieguanyin.
Many thanks to Brendon for sharing Arakai Estate story and giving us an insight into Australian tea culture. You can find more information about Arakai Estate teas on their website. Reviews on Tea Chronicles can be found under the tag Arakai Estate.
Estate statistics & information (information taken from Arakai Estate site)
Six different Japanese small-leaf varieties of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis : Majority of plantation is Yabukita & Sayamakaori. Smaller numbers of Meirokyu, Yutakamidori, Fushin & Okumidori.
Plantation size is 1 hectare, with over 12,000 plants and just over 5km of tea hedges. Harvest every 4 – 5 weeks from September to April.
All plant nutrition is from a mix of certified & non-certified organic inputs. This includes microbial innoculants to reduce Nitrogen requirements to keep Arakai Estate tea full of natural flavour instead of synthetic additives.
There are no pesticides or fungicides used on Arakai tea farm. Herbicides are occasionally used in weed management when necessary but their teas are guaranteed spray-free and residue-free.
Arakai plantation is pruned & harvested using their own creation – the mighty bike harvester. It is a human-powered, low-impact machine that cuts following the contours of the land with remarkable accuracy and reliability.
All of Arakai teas are guaranteed to be grown & processed on-farm at Arakai Estate in Bellthorpe, QLD. They don’t, and won’t, import tea from overseas to mix with their products.