tea for two

In the hills south of Ho­bart is the world’s south­ern­most tea plan­ta­tion, home of Aus­tralia’s old­est com­mer­cial grower and pro­ces­sor of Ja­panese green tea. ROGER HAN­SON called in for a cuppa.

Tasmanian Country - - FRONT PAGE -

WITH an eye on car­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment, the tea grown by Gor­don and Jane Brown at Allen’s Rivulet is cer­ti­fied pes­ti­cide free. So­lar en­ergy pow­ers the ir­ri­ga­tion pumps and tea pro­cess­ing plant.

The cou­ple have cre­ated Tas­ma­nia’s only tea plan­ta­tion with 4000 bushes on half a hectare and de­vel­oped their brand Tassie-T. Tas­ma­nia’s cool tem­per­ate cli­mate is ideal for pro­duc­ing supreme qual­ity leaves.

In­no­va­tion is in the DNA of the Browns. Gor­don has a masters de­gree in agri­cul­ture from the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney, a doc­tor­ate of phi­los­o­phy from the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Syd­ney and a grad­u­ate diploma in ed­u­ca­tion. Jane, who has more than 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in food re­search, has a bach­e­lor of ed­u­ca­tion de­gree spe­cial­is­ing in food and nu­tri­tion and holds a masters de­gree in sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion through Curtin Uni­ver­sity.

About 28 years ago Dr Brown, who spe­cialised in post-har­vest hor­ti­cul­ture, was work­ing for the state de­part­ment of agri­cul­ture when given the task of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the process of turn­ing the fresh green leaves of camel­lia sinen­sis into tea for drink­ing. The project was shelved but he pressed on with his own plan­ta­tion. The back­yard gar­den va­ri­ety of camel­lia is not suit­able for tea.

“It’s been an on­go­ing process of in­no­va­tion and im­prov­ing on what we do,” Dr Brown said.

The plants in their tea gar­den are a Ja­panese va­ri­ety of the Chi­nese na­tive camel­lia, which in their nat­u­ral state can grow to al­most 5m tall.

“The bulk of the black tea drunk in the world is from the In­dian na­tive camel­lia, and green tea is dom­i­nated by the Chi­nese na­tive,” he said.

From plant­ing it takes about five years for first har­vest, hit­ting full har­vest in the next five years.

“Even though I’ve been in­volved in hor­ti­cul­ture all of my life, this is the first crop I’ve ever felt in­spired to grow,” Dr Brown said.

The Browns were at Huon Small Farms Expo at Ranelagh on Sun­day talk­ing to peo­ple about set­ting up a small hold­ing with a fo­cus on tea.

“I be­lieve we have real po­ten­tial for grow­ing qual­ity tea in Tas­ma­nia as it has a tem­per­a­ture pro­file very sim­i­lar to Dar­jeel­ing in In­dia. The most im­por­tant thing in grow­ing tea is ir­ri­ga­tion. Tea is so re­silient and we have no ma­jor pests and dis­eases here in Tas­ma­nia,” he said.

“I would love to have a col­lec­tion of small grow­ers in Tas­ma­nia, to add va­ri­ety to small plot farms and ex­change ideas. This year we are sell­ing cut­tings to peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in grow­ing tea.”

On their small farm they also grow her­itage ap­ples and sour cher­ries, with the trees com­ing from Hun­gry.

“The global mar­ket for sour cherry pro­duc­tion is larger than sweet cher­ries, which we grow here for the fresh fruit mar­ket,” he said. “Sour cher­ries are a pro­cess­ing fruit.”

The Browns are nur­tur­ing a new crop of tea plants put in last win­ter. The plants are cov­ered by pa­per cups to pro­tect them from rab­bits and rope is strung just above the cups to pre­vent wal­la­bies tram­pling them. Geese in the nurs­ery plan­ta­tion don’t eat the tea plants but keep the grass down.

Their scale of grow­ing is def­i­nitely of a small­hold­ing size. Aus­tralian com­pany Ner­ada, in Queens­land, uses big equip­ment to har­vest 4000kg of leaves an hour on a plan­ta­tion of 400ha.

Mech­a­ni­sa­tion is re­quired, but con­ven­tional equip­ment is not suited to the Browns’ oper­a­tion, and there has been some in­ter­est­ing lat­eral think­ing and adap­ta­tion in­volved. “I like to have equip­ment that you ac­tu­ally buy from the lo­cal shop,” he said.

A Rover ride-on lawn­mower has been adapted. When har­vest­ing tea, the for­ward mo­tion is by a so­lar pow­ered elec­tric mo­tor. On the front is the cut­ting deck that was moved from un­der the mower. It is sus­pended by a crane so the height can be raised or low­ered. Be­side the deck is a grass catcher, where the tea leaves col­lect.

From mid-Novem­ber to April the Browns har­vest 28 bins of leaves a week dur­ing each of the growth flushes, 20 of which are pro­cessed for green tea, and eight for black tea. The leaves are picked at a more ma­ture stage than most, when the leaves have more sugar and are less as­trin­gent.

“Our tea is a smooth, al­most sweet drink, with a beau­ti­ful aroma that

I think they re­ally en­joy it as much as any­thing else and it gives their horses a good work­out

TOM SHOOBRIDGE

comes from the older leaves,” he said.

For green tea, ox­i­da­tion must be pre­vented to stop them turn­ing black. This usu­ally is done by steam­ing or cook­ing in hot pans in what Mrs Brown calls their lab­o­ra­tory. They blanch the tea leaves at 90C for three min­utes in a com­mer­cial deep fryer, which was de­signed for fish and chips.

For black tea ox­i­da­tion is manda­tory. Af­ter it has wilted a lit­tle, black tea is put into a meat min­cer. This breaks up the cell struc­ture to re­lease flavour. Black tea goes through three times and green tea once.

“I am in­ter­ested in pro­cesses that are eco­nomic and that the con­sumer loves to drink,” Dr Brown said.

“We are con­tin­u­ously con­duct­ing re­search to en­sure our process pro­duces tea with the high­est of flavours [and] ex­cel­lent health prop­er­ties while pre­serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Once the tea is dried, the 90kg of fresh leaves picked at a time be­come 28kg of tea leaves.

Their Tas­ma­nian green tea is sold as Huon Green, the black tea as Huon Black, and Tas­ma­nian Oo­long as HuonOo­long. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.sci­en­tifi­chor­ti­cul­ture.com.au

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