These are terms you’ve heard bandied about by coffee snobs, wine sommeliers, and now… tea drinkers? What does “single origin” and “single estate” mean? What value do these descriptors carry?
No need to question anymore, leaf lovers! The Tea Centre has supplied single origin and single estate loose leaf to Australians since 1993. Come 2021, we’re here to spill the tea on exactly what these words mean.
Single origin tea is comprised of loose leaves all sourced from the same location. Therefore, single origin is the opposite of a fusion tea or breakfast blend. The location can be as vague as a country or as specific as a single estate.
Single estate tea is comprised of loose leaves all sourced from the same tea garden, estate, or plantation.
However, it’s likely that most of you already know what “single origin” and “single estate” mean. The concept that’s harder to grasp is why these terms matter in the first place.
Why does “single origin” and “single estate” tea matter?
To be fully transparent, part of the allure surrounding concepts like “single origin” and “single estate” comes from the power of advertising. At less reputable beverage companies, sellers may use these descriptors to sell their tea for a perceived higher value than what they are actually worth!
For example, a “single-origin green tea from Japan” sounds enticing, right? However, that green tea may be a blend of poor quality tea leaves. Furthermore, the leaves could be from any number of harvests, green tea types (i.e. sencha, bancha, or hojicha), and plantations spanning Japan’s four islands.
However, The Tea Centre stays away from these sorts of deceptive practices. We only use these terms when relevant to the consumer and in the spirit of our crop-to-cup philosophy. It’s only when we describe region-specific growing conditions, ethical trade routes, and environmental factors that these terms begin to matter.
Crop to cup philosophy: single origin & single estate teas
We know from market research that Australians are increasingly concerned with food provenance. This naturally leads to questions about a product’s organic content, manufacturing process, the burden on labour, and generally how their product (or in our case, tea) has a positive or negative impact on the world. This is a good thing!
At The Tea Centre, we think it’s important that consumers know their purchasing power, and use it to support sustainable and ethical business models. For example, The Tea Centre uses the term “single origin” to describe our range of 100% Australian-grown tea.
If you like to support Aussie farmers, the term “single origin” is how we let you know that purchasing Australian Alpine sencha directly benefits our tea supplier in the Wangaratta alps of Victoria. In this case, single origin also hints at a high-quality regional variation.
If you are familiar with the Wangaratta alps, you will know that the climate is primed for cultivating sencha. The terroir is akin to the growing conditions of high-quality sencha-producing regions in Japan like Shizuoka. Incidentally, that is also where our premium Japanese Shimizu sencha comes from.
We’ve discussed how single origin can highlight regional variety and help you support local business. In addition, single estate is a more specific term that can reference the positive reputation of a renowned tea garden or plantation.
A good example is our single estate Makaibari Darjeeling tea. Aside from the FTGFOP tea grading, acknowledging that this Darjeeling is a single estate tea helps explains the higher price point. Makaibari tea estate is renowned for being the home of the world’s first tea factory. Knowing the estate your tea comes from also helps consumers learn more about what sustainability and social empowerment initiatives the estate may be undertaking. You can find out more about Makaibari’s initiatives here.
Furthermore, some estates like Makaibari are lauded for growing particular teas—in this case, Darjeeling. True Darjeeling grows at the base of the Himalayas and within the shadow of Kangchenjunga. The Makaibari tea estate is in Kurseong, which goes by the nickname, “land of the white orchid”. Knowing this gives tea drinkers the peace of mind that what they’re drinking is the real deal.
At the end of the day, terms like “single origin” and “single estate” are not necessarily synonymous with premium quality.
Yes, knowing that a tea is from a single country or estate can give you more control over what business practices (sustainable and ethical or otherwise) you are contributing to. In turn, this allows you to make better-informed purchasing decisions. However, don’t rely on these terms alone when looking for a quality loose leaf tea. The main takeaway is to always ask questions about where your tea is coming from if food provenance is important to you!