Tea Down Under at the Australian International Tea Expo

Australia’s homegrown teas showed well at the Australian International Tea Expo that took place at the Melbourne Showgrounds where 12,000 coffee and tea professionals and the public sipped and shared for three days last week.

Last week, 49 exhibitors at the Australian International Tea Expo and more than 120 coffee and coffee supply companies that annually gather for MICE (the Melbourne International Coffee Expo) shared the same venue for the first time. The event was limited to  people in the tea industry for the first day and then the public was invited to sample and study the industry’s newest products and latest advances in equipment.

Contestants judge 10 teas. Ruan de Witt, tallest in blue jacket, won the tasting competition scoring 10 of 10.

This is the sixth year for MICE and the second edition of the Tea Expo organized by Australian Tea Masters founder Sharyn Johnston. The event drew 30 percent more exhibitors and was much more international this year with representatives from China, Sri Lanka, Korea and Indonesia. Secretary-general of China’s Tea Industry Committee of China, Wei You, presented. Executives from Korea’s Formay Black Tea company also presented, and their Mr. Moon tea won a top Gold Leaf Award.

While most coffee companies were located on the MICE show floor, a few tea ventures were also present. One example of a crossover was San Remo’s launch of their new versatile espresso/tea machine in the tea hall.

“It was such a great opportunity for me for my first-ever expo and I met so many amazing people,” said co-founder of Sensado Tea Mandy Suess, a food technologist and dietician.

“It is so emotional to have seen how much we have grown from our first expo,” said Johnston. “We are grateful to the commitment from the exhibitors. We had so many inquiries regarding the next expo in March 2018.

“There were 370 teas entered in the Gold Leaf Awards competition,” said Johnston and strong competition for Australia and New Zealand Tea Masters Cup prizes that include expense-paid travel to the international competition. Winners were Ruan de Witt, who received the top award for tea tasting; Dorothy Chan, who won the tea-food pairing category; and Cheryl Teo, who took top honors in tea preparation.

Chaminda Jayawardana, managing director at Lumbini Tea Factory, accepted seven Gold  Awards and expressed thanks to his “hard working team in Sri Lanka.”

Also at the expo, Tracey Leyshon debuted her Maternitea range for pregnant women and lactating mothers and RE: Raw Essentials launched its functional range. Ovvio Organic Tea displayed a full line of health and lifestyle blends. “We have met so many awesome people, connected with so many new tea people and sold so much tea, a great tea experience,” said Ovvio founder Anthia Koullouros.

“We are getting better each year and we are here to stay,” said Johnston.

By world standards, Australians rank 55 in tea consumption, below their island neighbors in New Zealand. However, there is a lot more interest in growing tea in Australia. Some grow tea for the commercial market, but  small niche growers are popping up in increasing numbers. One such grower is the award-winning Arakai Estate, a Taiwan-style green and black tea producer located in Bellthorpe, Queensland that exhibited at the show. During the past few years Arakai planted 12,500 seedlings on a hectare of land where tea bushes stretch more than 5 kilometers. They included six  varieties of Japanese green tea.

Australians manufacture a broad range of quality teas that are rarely sold in the U.S. but warmly received throughout Asia, especially in Japan which receives more than half of the tea produced in Australia.