Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

The Arakai Estate

Australian Tea Week! Day 1: “The Arakai Estate”


The Land Down Under. Oz. Or whatever other people (including the locals) call it. Our southernmost Pacific neighbor is known for many things: weird and diverse wildlife, a wicked sense of humor, numerous flora and fauna that can kill you in a heartbeat, sometimes good beer . . . and . . . women. Oh my, the women!


One day, Rebel. One day.

Where was I? Oh yes . . .

One thing people might not know, however, is that parts of continent have taken up tea growing as a trade. They’ve tried their hand at it since the 1880s. Of course, because Australia is . . . well . . . Australia, sustainable plantings didn’t take hold successfully until around the 1960s. However, since then, many operations have emerged—Daintree, Madura, etc.

Which brings me to the Arakai estate—a garden in Bellthorpe, Queensland, Australia.


Image owned by the Arakai estate

By tea estate standards, it’s a relatively young outfit. In fact, it didn’t even start out as a tea garden at all. In 1999, when the Collins family (Darryl and Lorraine, respectively) acquired the property, it was to break ground and start a forestry farm. The name “Arakai” is even derived from the species of tree the farm specializes in—Araucaria.

The necessity for another, year-round crop to go along with their timber harvesting efforts—and a news report—is what led them to consider growing tea as an option. Spear-headed by the Collins’ son, Brendon, and his wife Kristie. Over a three-year period of time, they planted 12,500 tea bushes on a hectare of land. At present, they have over 5 kilometers worth of tea bush rows—all Japanese cultivars.

What I found most fascinating was how they did their harvesting. They used this. . .


Image owned by the Arakai estate.

Yes, a freakin’ bike-powered harvester; their own creation. I dunno what to say, that’s just awesome.


Editor Skippy: We were later informed that the bike harvester—while awesome—actually has gasoline-powered cutters. Not pedal-powered. Apologies for the comfusion.


Their first harvest occurred in 2015. It was rather well-received. They even won a few awards.

The Arakai tea estate showed up on my radar through—of all places—Instagram. (That seems to be happening a lot lately.) Not sure who followed who first, but I kept gentle tabs on their updates with keen (near salivating) interest. I wasn’t sure when/how I could procure some of their wares, given that shipping anything from Australia is a nightmare.

Luckily, UK-based online vendor favorite What-Cha Tea saved me the trouble. They started carrying their 2016 harvest. I bought both the Arakai summer offerings . . . pretty much the moment I found them on there.


For brewing, I approached them both exactly as one would expect. Black tea: Boiled water, three minute steep—one teaspoon, 6oz. gaiwan. Green tea: Same time, same ratio—175F water temp, also a one-minute steep (per the What-Cha recommendations.) Done.

Arakai Summer Black Tea


The black tea leaves looked like black tea leaves, but with no rolling technique I’d ever seen before. Well, correction, I had seen similar leaf cuts before, but they were usually more uniform. The average leaf length here ranged from BOP to FBOP—short clumps to medium length, nary a whole leaf piece in the fray. This was fine by me. As long as they weren’t fannings or dust, I was satisfied. The aroma they gave off reminded me of a Ceylon Uva by way of a Taiwanese black. Floral at the front, woody in the middle, and with a hint of honeynut sweetness on the back-end.


The liquor brewed to a lovely soft copper with hints of bronze. The aroma from the billows of steam were pure chocolate malted chestnuts with something “cooling” on the back-whiff. It smelled like a Ruby 18 . . . only memorable. On taste, it started off a lot like a Ceylon with a floral front. I pretty much expected that, but it did an evergreen Ruby 18 back-flip in the middle, and ended on Darjeeling second flush finish; minus the muscatel.

Arakai Summer Green Tea


The green tea leaves were surprisingly varied in color, ranging from dark forest green to woody brown. They also had a longer appearance in contrast to the black tea. Long, twisty and rolled; they were similar in appearance to a German green tea I tried, or even a Russian. The aroma they gave off was also unique. No grassiness was present, no vegetal underpinning, no umami-clad nuts or veiled stone fruits. Instead, I got a vague whiff of herbal citrus (like verbena) and some other tropical weed impression. Like Ko’oko’alau from Hawaii—robust but soft.


At around a minute, the liquor brewed to a mild, soft, unassuming, light green—like someone had robbed a lemon of half its color and smeared it with lime juice. (No, I don’t condone violent . . . fruit imagery. I don’t think.) There wasn’t much of a steam aroma to speak of; mildly grassy with a smidge of cantaloupe. Nope, all the hoopla showed up in the flavor. There was a mild, tropical fruit forefront that gradually rose to a hearty Chinese Mao Feng top note, and then slid on down into Korean junjak country. The whole experience—minus any perceived grassiness—was a lot like a Darjeeling green tea session.


If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the green tea. Not surprising considering the cultivars used—Yabukita, Sayakamaori, etc.—are all tailor-made for green teas. But don’t take that to mean their black tea wasn’t excellent; ooooh man, it was. Whatever Arakai is doing with teas, they can keep on doing it.

I’ve even caught wind on Instagram of some of their efforts in growing coffee.

Image owned by the Arakai estate.

Image owned by the Arakai estate.

No, really.

What can I say, I’m a fan of innovative insanity. Because . . . BIKE HARVESTER!!!

Image owned by the Arakai estate.

Image owned by the Arakai estate.

To buy their teas from What-Cha, go HERE.

For more information on the estate, go to their website, HERE.

Once Bug-Bitten, Twice Shy

Well . . . I guess it’s time to put a certain theory to pasture.

And it’s all because of these two.


Who are they? I’ll get to that.

What theory? Oh, I had this hypothesis that tea and dating (or courtship, whatever) didn’t “blend”.

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Tea Tales and Mocktails

Two weeks back, I received an invite to go here:


Okay, I go to both Smith Tea locations quite a bit on my own, but this was a special occasion. Like last year, this was their media-only holiday pre-release party. They were going to be showcasing their upcoming blends, partnerships, and limited edition holiday offerings.  And I was convinced I couldn’t go. Work and all that.

I was so convinced about my lack of attendance, I even shot off an e-mail to lead blender dude, Tony Tellin, to see if I could mooch some of pre-release batches for an article. Y’know . . . to pretend I was there. I’m good at pretending. None of that was necessary because I was magically able to convince my work to let me off early that day.

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Hugs, High-Fives, and Farmer Style Sencha

A couple of years ago—on a visit to the Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants shop— I tried a Japanese tea (that wasn’t sencha) that just . . . blew me away.


It was a black tea blended with yuzu rind. Yes, the Japanese orange.

When I described it to people, all I could muster was, “It’s like an Earl Grey that followed the Bushido code.” The astringency was balanced, there was a malty kick, and of course there was that effervescent blast of citrus at the top note. Never tried anything like it.

The Jasmine Pearl folks told me that it came from one particular farmer in Kawanehon-town in Shizuoka prefecture.

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A Transparent Tea Liquor

This is a white tea called Doke Silver Needle.


I . . . may have written about it several times.

I know exactly where it comes from. (The Doke tea estate in Bihar, India.) I know who owns the estate. (Rajiv Lochan.) I know who makes it. (Rajiv’s daughter, Neha “Dolly” Lochan.) And I know who sells it directly to me. (Rajiv’s son, Vivek Lochan.) When brewed, the liquor is as transparent as the entire experience. I know just about everything I need to about this tea, and—each year—it continues to surprise me.

Lately, however, I realized I’ve taken this experience for granted. Knowing that much about a tea is an exception, not the norm. Compounded with that, I’m a tea blogger that specializes in telling stories about teas. So, painting a transparent picture of the tea experience is something I’m focused on. That is also far removed from the average tea drinker. It made me wonder . . . how important is transparency to the everyday cupper?

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Puerh . . . After a Fashion

Shou (or cooked/ripe) puerh is difficult to market. Hell, puerh in general is difficult to spin. How do you convince people that something that’s fermented is something they want? Fermented leaves, no less; in cake form.


The conundrum gets even hairier once you try to explain to people what the “cooking” process even is. Example: “Oh yeah, and over here we have some shou puerh—sometimes called cooked puerh. Not to be confused with raw puerh, which ages naturally. Unlike that stuff, wet leaves are composted by piling them together in a hot roo— . . . hey, where are you going?”

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Cooked “Puerh” from Laos

LaosTea—a wholesaler of heicha from Laos—had a booth at World Tea Expo again this last summer.


Image mooched from LaosTea’s Instagram.

And I didn’t visit it once.

In my mind, I kept saying, Eh, I’ve already tried everything they have to offer.

What I should’ve been thinking was, I really need to solidify some of my vendor networking contacts!

Hindsight and all that.

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Dark Tea from Burma/Myanmar

No one likes to talking about Burma . . . or Myanmar . . . or whatever it’s calling itself, now.

Photo by David Blackwell.

Photo by David Blackwell.

Even the name of the country is a hotly contested issue. At college parties, whenever some Eastern Philosophy major brought up Buddhism as an example of a nonviolent religion, all someone had to do was say, “Myanmar.” Or Burma. Or whatever!

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My Detox Horror Story

Over the last year or so, I’ve expressed my . . . displeasure with detox culture. I particularly took issue with the belief that someone could eliminate “toxins” from their body by ingesting weird herbs and other unlikely ingredients (like literal silver and gold). When talk of these practices spilled over into my tea life (in the form of “teatoxing”), I grew more vocal in my vehemence.

I made the same counter claims as many other tea friends did. Examples: (1) Unless you had overdosed on a drug or were exposed to an actual poison, detoxing wasn’t necessary. (2) Anything in trace amounts wasn’t overly harmful. (3) “Toxins”—as a malicious, invisible entity—were as mythical as fairy dust. And finally, (4) if someone had a workable liver and kidney(s), their body had all it needed to do the natural detoxing for them. If they didn’t have those . . . they were probably dead already.

Of course, my online ravings fell squarely on deaf ears. My corner of the tea Internet was way below the radar of the twentysomethings, fashionistas, health food folks, and . . . well . . . pretty much everyone, really. I even had to distance myself from a tea shop I loved because they started hocking detox drinks.

The only way I could get through to people was to finally come clean. For you see? When I was in my twenties, I was one of them. This is . . .


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Dong Ding Near-Death Experiences

In 2009, Shiuwen Tai—the plucky owner of Floating Leaves Tea in Seattle—made her first trip to Dong Ding Mountain in Taiwan . . .

Shiuwen Tai on Dong Ding Mountain in 2016. Photo by Jake Knapp.

Shiuwen Tai on Dong Ding Mountain in 2016. Photo by Jake Knapp.

. . . And almost died.

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