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20 February 2008

Nerada Tea

Tony Poyner: My name's Tony Poyner and I'm the manager of Nerada Tea estates. We're located in the Cairns Highlands, probably about an hour out of Cairns.

We have 340 odd hectares we're harvesting annually. Most of that is harvested during the summer months, small amounts during the winter months but predominantly the summer months.

Behind us we have our tea factory and processing facility which has the capacity to process around 4 tonnes of green leaf per hour which is roughly about a tonne of black tea made per hour.

This great business all started back in 1882 with the Cutten Brothers. Those fellows landed here, charged their way through the rainforest, found some beautiful land at Bingal Bay and set up their farm. On that farm they had the Camellia sinensis plant which is what tea is.

Forty years after they started a massive cyclone came through and tidal wave and wiped the whole place out and that's basically where the Camellia sinensis plant stayed.

Dr Maruff started his tea estate in 1958.

In 1972, Dr Maruff ceased his involvement in the Nerada tea industry sadly, and so in 1985 tea planting started on this estate here.

From that point it's just gone from strength to strength.

Every year we produce more tea, field husbandry gets better, the quality of the product is superb, no fungicides, no pesticides, and it truly is a pleasure to grow it in such a beautiful place.

It takes roughly three to five, maybe six years for the trees to become mature for harvesting. There's 11,000 bushes to the hectare. We have 330 odd hectares here under cropping at the moment. That produces roughly two million kilos of black tea a season which equates to roughly a billion teabags a year.

In the growing season we harvest every 21 days and what we're looking for is two leaves and a bud predominantly. That's a pretty good example of the two leaves and a bud.

Each 21 days the bush pumps out another set of tips, or two leaves and a bud, and underneath it there's another bud forming so in 21 days' time there's another crop.

We're looking for a nice quick growing flush and we can tell that it's a nice quick growing flush by the way that it snaps clean which means it's free of fibre which predominantly means that all of that is going to be turned into black tea which makes it cost effective.

After the tea is harvested it's brought across the weigh bridge and then brought into the withering shed. All the tea has to sit in the bins for 12 to 24 hours before it can be manufactured.

The enzymes in the leaf have to start to break down so that later on in the process, when the tea is ruptured, the cells and the enzymes oxidise very quickly to produce black tea.

Once the tea's been withered it goes into the production line into what we call the rolling room.

Once it's been ruptured, cut to size, we then oxidise it for roughly an hour and a half to two hours to turn it from green tea into black tea.

Tea contains roughly 80% water so we've got to get rid of all that water so part of the firing process is to bring the fermented tea or dool as we call it, to the driers, remove that water.

Once we've removed the stalk we then have to sift it into its particular grades, which is sizing, into one tonne bags.

We predominantly make two major grades which is tea bags and pot tea or leaf tea as we call it and from there we road freight all that stuff from here on the Cairns Highlands down to Brisbane for packaging.

We produce two million kilos of black tea a year.

We employ 25 to 30 staff all year round and the business has evolved.

I'm sure if the Cutten brothers and Dr Allan Maruff were alive today to see how the Nerada Tea industry has evolved they would be very proud, because without all of those people we wouldn't exist today and I'm sure that they would be very proud of the state the industry has got through their efforts and the efforts of many other people over the years.