The perfect blend
When Brendan Collins took over the management of his parent’s farm in the picturesque town of Bellthorpe, never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he’d end up producing Australia’s best tea.
Describing the last 10 years as a serendipitous experience, Brendan Collins reminisces on how it all started. After trying his hand at IT and environmental science at university, he discovered he wanted a more practical career.
In 2007 he returned home from a trip overseas to find that his parents, Darryl and Lorraine Collins required a new manager at their forestry farm in Bellthorpe. Although he didn’t finish his degree in environmental science, it had sparked an interest in planting and growing trees.
I jumped at the chance to come up here and look after the place,” Brendan says, adding that working on the property was the education he hoped to get out of the degree.
“It wasn’t exactly a hugely productive property then, a lot of trees had been planted but the nature of growing forestry is very long term. We had planted a little block of avocados, so my role in coming up here was either expanding on what we were already doing or finding something new that we could do to fill in that short term goal.”
Brendan says the whole farm has always been a bit of an experiment. They trialled different types of produce, from ginger to garlic, but it wasn't until he stumbled on tea that he realised he was onto something.
“My mother and sister have always been very big tea drinkers and so it was a good idea to be able to keep them in supply at least,” he laughs.
Brendan quickly discovered there weren’t too many tea farmers in Australia, which had its pros and cons. He knew they could fill a gap in the market, but they were also going in completely blind. Not one to back away from a challenge, Brendan decided to give it a go.
It was something new, and it was something novel. And we really had the ability to do everything ourselves here on the property,” he says.
After planting their first crop, Brendan and Darryl headed to China to purchase machinery, where they were almost laughed out of the country.
“We found out that we were doing everything the wrong way,” he explains, “We already had tea in the ground, which was a totally different type of tea to what they would use. And then we were turning it into a product that it had never been turned into before, so there were a few heads shaking around the table.”
Brendan didn’t let the skepticism ruin his plans. He had done his research and knew what the Australian market was missing.
It just meant that we were doing something new really. So the tea varieties that we are growing are from Japan, which are meant for Japanese green tea, whereas we don’t want to make Japanese green tea, it’s not what we like and we didn’t think the Australian taste really was after that either.”
In 2014 Brendan, his partner Kristie, and his parents hopped on a plane to Taiwan to learn more about producing tea. They travelled through tea growing regions, visiting farms and learning from the farmers.
After years of research and planning, the result is Japanese tea varieties grown on Queensland soil using Taiwanese processing and Chinese machinery. The mix proved to be just right, and saw their business, Arakai Estate awarded at the 2015 tea expo in Geelong.
We didn’t even go to the awards night. We didn’t think we had a chance, to be honest. We went out for dinner and had fish and chips,” he laughs.
They found out the next day that they had taken out almost all of the Australian awards for green and black tea and won the overall green tea award. They’ve been on an upward trajectory since, winning the same awards again at the most recent Melbourne tea expo.
Perfecting their processing every day, Brendan says he hopes to also go on to produce tea blends, but in the meantime he’s loving every moment working alongside his family and producing amazing, award-winning tea in stunning surroundings.