Renee Creer wasn’t always into green tea. In fact, it’s fair to say that as far as beverages go, her first love was for something a little stronger.
“Originally I wanted to work with wine,” says the PR and marketing communications-trained green tea ambassador as she pours honey-coloured iced tea with additional vanilla and rosebuds. “I love wine and I thought I was going to end up as the brand manager of a wine marketing company.” But after setting out on the oenophile journey, it wasn’t long before Creer discovered a flaw in her plan.
“We had lots of events on for a month, but by the time I got to the end of it all I felt so ill from the food and wine that I realised I’m just not drink-fit enough to be in the wine industry.” She shrugs her shoulders and laughs.
Creer, along with business and life partner Paul Tooth, are the duo behind the Australian green tea label Perfect South and they’re on a mission to wise up Australians to the gorgeous green tea product that we’re growing right in our own backyard.
“I thought ‘ok what is it about wine that I love?’ And I wrote it all down - I love the country, the tastes, the makers, the whole process of creating a beautiful product,” says Creer.
Around the same time, Creer had been encouraged to add green tea to her beverage repertoire as a method of coping with food intolerances, and she decided to dig a little deeper.
“I got all the same feelings and love and passion that I got from wine with tea, because it’s about the history, the farmers, the tea makers and the varieties. It’s an identical template! But it’s a product that’s going to be better for me in the long run.”
Trips to Japan, disheartening encounters at the supermarket level and an interest in specialty tea shops, along with her own research, eventually convinced Creer that rather than importing the best quality green tea from Japan, she would look into what was being grown here in Australia. The idea of finding the freshest product, limiting storage and handling as well as a keen interest in provenance all came into play.
“I found the growers in north east Victoria, contacted them and when I tasted the product it just knocked my socks off. So we decided to do it because a) we don’t grow a lot of tea in Australia, and b) the product is just so fantastic, we should tell people.”
So far, the high-quality green tea being grown in Australia is largely exported to Japan, with relatively little being held back for the domestic market.
“We chose the name Perfect because the region we get our teas from in Victoria is perfect to grow green tea. That was the big reason that they selected it originally; it was on par with some of the growing regions in Japan, in terms of soil, climate and environment. And South because we’re in the Southern Hemisphere.”
The result is a tightly curated, limited selection of Australian-grown green teas, produced in the Japanese style. Perfect South source from nine tea plantations and work with one tea master to craft a selection that includes first harvest shincha, estate sencha and houjicha among others.
“The most common problem is that people say ‘oh I don’t like green tea, it’s too bitter’. But it’s only bitter if the quality of the leaf isn’t good enough or the leaves are burnt with boiling water.”
Brewing tips come with each style of tea, but Creer is adamant that keeping it simple and not getting caught up with thermometers and timers is essential to enjoying your cup.
“If you’re going to buy a really great tea, of course I’d say do it as well as you can, but don’t get too hung up on it… one of our big things is simplicity, just keeping everything simple.” But if she had to choose one tip?
“Good water does help. If you start with very clean and purified water then naturally you’ll get the better flavours coming through.”
It says something that Perfect South list Rockpool on George among their very first customers, using their green tea both in the kitchen and on the tea menu, and you’ll also see their products at Cornersmith and Bion Societé. Not bad for green tea grown right here.