Going green suits to a Tea

Jenne BrammerOlga de MoellerThe West Australian
Ron and Maria Kemp.
Camera IconRon and Maria Kemp. Credit: Iain Gillespie

WEST Australians can say konnichiwa to locally grown green tea, thanks to a Northcliffe couple who are fulfilling their dream to produce and process the antioxidant-rich crop commercially.

Ron and Maria Kemp’s 4ha green tea plantation — the only one in WA — last year started commercial production after being planted a decade ago, and they now sell their products under the brand name Southern Forest Green Tea.

It’s been a labour of love for the couple, encouraged by a Department of Agriculture and Food WA initiative in early 2000 to develop a green tea industry in the Southern Forests region.

Although a full industry did not emerge, the Kemps were keen to pursue the idea and invested in their own processing facility, which was sourced from Japan.

Mrs Kemp said there had been much trial and error and estimated the couple had invested about $1 million, including the purchase of processing equipment, along with a harvester from Japan and bagging equipment from Korea, plus irrigating the land with overhead sprinklers.

The annual yield for their locally grown tea is about two tonnes.

The annual harvest starts in November, picking just the most flavoursome top three leaves, every two weeks for about three to four months.

“We harvest six to eight times a season and continue until the bushes start flowering, usually some time in March,” Mr Kemp said.

Once harvested, the tea must be processed within the hour to ensure all its beneficial antioxidants are retained. Processing involves steaming, rolling and drying the leaves in a low-temperature process.

Products are packaged on site and include loose leaf tea, pyramid infuser tea bags and a pure green tea powder.

The tea is sold online via the Southern Forest Green Tea website.

The business also has several distributors, the main end customers being WA cafes and households keen to source a local quality product grown in a clean, green environment.

Mrs Kemp said herbicides and pesticides were not used.

About 20 sheep are responsible for weeding, backed up with hand weeding by the couple.

The Kemps also have a 6ha Hass avocado operation and, until recently, ran cattle on their 160ha property, Meerup Tea Estate.

Mr Kemp said the cooler South West conditions were ideal for growing the tea and the main challenge now was getting the brand name known.

There were no immediate plans to expand, the main reason being the processing facility was operating at full capacity during harvest.

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