Tea with Significance
Nathanael Foo, the founder of threeonesix Tea is different from a lot of the people we talk to here in that his business didn’t start with an idea or a passion for food but rather a social impact model and a place. Nat had taken a three month volunteering trip learning about human trafficking in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, worked in an anti-human-trafficking organisation in San Francisco, and completed an MBA in Copenhagen, and found himself in Northern Thailand with a list of possible industries and an idea for an impact model. Nat paid a local to drive him around Northern Thailand and help translate as they hopped around farms looking for inspiration.
Nat stumbled upon a farm which met all of his needs: A USDA certified organic Tea farm set up with the mission to create safe, dignified employment for local people. We spoke to Nat about creating a direct trade business model which gives consumers access to creating positive change, and all while enjoying quality tea at a great price.
“I know the names of the pickers, I’ve plucked some of the tea myself , and most importantly I’ve had meals with tea workers . I don't tell them what to do, I don't tell them what price to charge me, all I need to do is support them in doing what they do well - produce good quality tea through a safe and dignified manner”.
The threeonesix Model
Despite their many similarities, the production process between tea and coffee are very different. Coffee cherries are plucked, delivered to a mill, fermented, dried, sold and roasted. It makes sense for people along the supply chain to take some of the profit as they're contributing to the value of the product. In tea, however, everything from growing and picking the leaves, to delivering the rolled up, oxidised, roasted teas Nat sells, is performed on the farm. “The farmers are doing 95% of the work, they're not just experts in agronomy , but in roasting and how to oxidise the tea, what's left is just marketing, sales and logistics.” said Nat.
But even though the tea is already finished, the farm and tea pickers often sees less than 1% of the profit made in the sale of their teas. The remainder is eaten up by tea auction houses, blenders, buying agents and retailers. "It's probably not surprising then that a huge amount of people in the tea industry don't make enough money to meet their basic needs.” said Nat.
"It's easier to produce a product without as much ethical consideration, and to donate profits away. We make sure that every single step leaves a positive net social impact. We can keep profits because the social impact has already been made. We've supported safe and dignified employment opportunities, and we can still donate profits back into the farm as a trade premium or for particular projects like a school in the community. We have that possibility.”
threeonesix’s ethical considerations extend even to Perth, where Nat is careful to price his tea to be as accessible as it can be. “I think it’s quite unjust that people of a lower social economic means can't support socially minded products. Ethical products quite often come with a premium, and to help this I price match comparable tea companies as much as I can.” Said Nat.
The specific details of Nat’s business venture in Northern Thailand didn’t fully form until he tried the tea from the farm from which he now sources. He was not yet particularly involved in tea, but tried their product and decided that he had to work with them, he is now diving head first into the world of tea.
“With a good enough product you can get really nerdy with it.” Said Nat, "There are so many different ways of doing it and presenting it, and I still have so much to learn about tea even after the last year and a half really studying it"
The threeonesix range consists of eight teas ranging from Oolong, green tea, black tea and herbal tea. Whilst the range is modest, each tea is of exceptional quality and many would surprise even seasoned tea drinkers. The English Breakfast, for example, does not have any tannin, the cottony, puckering feeling present in black tea in teabags. The GABA Oolong is of particular note, a truly unique and complex taste profile, it is processed in nitrogen, the tea preserves the GABA neurotransmitter which is present in tea and rice, but is usually destroyed through oxidation. GABA is helpful in concentration, and so the tea pairs well with working or studying.
"The quality is good enough that we don’t need to colour or flavour artificially. The Peppermint, for example is real peppermint without oils or flavourings, which gives it a balanced and naturally sweet profile which a lot of people find quite surprising” Said Nat.
Nat and his staff package and label the tea personally, which gives them the chance to see the quality of the tea themselves, and means they can pull out any leaves which might not have rolled up or a twig which may have fallen in, where in a larger operation these may be ignored, and end up in the final product.
"It’s literally Farm, to me, to you”
“My passion is to eradicate inequality and injustice," Said Nat, "it's quite broad, and quite universal, exploitation and human trafficking have always made me feel strongly, and there's a lot of that in things like tea.”
Nat chose Northern Thailand knowing that it bordered Burma and Laos, two developing nations from which people often enter Thailand as economic refugees— People leaving their home country to escape living in poverty. In addition to these people are a number of ‘Stateless' people living in Thailand, who are not biologically Thai but have lived in Thailand for generations, these stateless people are allowed to live in the land but don't have the rights of a Thai Person. They don't have rights to health care or education and they can only look for employment within the district they were born in.
"The sad thing is that when there is a high supply of vulnerable people, traffickers see that as a big advantage for cheap and free labour. They take people and exploit them in many industries including seafood and the sex industry.” Said Nat, “The more you learn about a social problem, the less you act out of guilt or benevolence and the more you want to study it further, to look into initiatives that target upstream factors and create long-term change. I thought why don't we go in that area and support somebody who is already impassioned about providing safe, dignified employment to people who are sociologically vulnerable.”
Nat was lucky enough to find a farm who’s values aligned with his own, and which was producing excellent tea. Not only does the farm grow and process all of it’s tea, but it also grows food for the workers and other crops to compliment tea: "It’s a testament to their thoughtfulness, all tea comes from the same plant, and the harvest and growing of tea only goes for four months of the year, but they’ve started to grow other things which compliment their tea during the downtime like jasmine, ginger, peppermint and osmanthus."
Perth is home for Nat, but Perth also lies in the Indo-Pacific region, a region where two thirds of people in modern slavery are found. It is in the same time zone as many of these nations, and has free trade agreements with many. After feeling “not so much homesick, but certainly sun-sick" while living in Copenhagen, there was no question that Nat would return to Perth to create threeonesix . The company launched last August and is, currently in it’s pilot phase. "Perth is a hard place to sell right now. There’s a lack of expendable cash and the mining bust, and most people don't drink high quality tea, but people do want to feel connected to what they buy, and Australians have values which drive us to support meaningful causes,” Nat Told us, "The closer you bring the people don't the hard work to you, the consumer, the more you start to empathise and care for them, and the more likely you are to change your consumer behaviour."
Nat says he did prove a few expectations, and discovered that Tea has got to be packaged nicely. His focus now is on educating Perth on his brand, his tea, and the impact they can deliver with something as seemingly simple as buying and drinking quality tea.
“Some think it's a marketing scam. I can understand that - many companies use social good spin to differentiate, inevitably causing customers to become skeptical. This doesn't perturb me, because I know I'm not doing that. I've spent five years of my life learning and working in the field, and now am confident that I know what I'm talking about. We stand for safe and dignified work which reverses exploitation, and a great, healthy, high quality drink. We’re hoping we can educate people on both aspects."
Funky flavours, left-field labels, a new vocabulary of terms, and blends you’ve never heard of. If you’ve been to a good bottle shop or a trendy bar recently you’ve probably noticed a number of new wines appearing which look, sound, and taste like nothing you’ve tried before. The world of natural, minimal intervention, and lo-fi wines is steadily finding a foothold in Perth, and to demystify these new styles, techniques and labels we got together with Budburst’s owner and sommelier Rachael Niall along with winemakers Matt of Freehand Wine, Yoko of Brave New Wine and Michael of Yelland & Papps.
What is Natural Wine?
Natural wines actually follow a specific set of conventions, Rachael told us that "In the most simple way, Natural wine is wine from organic or biodynamic grapes, made in a way where nothing is added and nothing is taken away. This means no chemicals are used in the vineyard, no inoculated yeast is used for fermentation, there is no filtration or fining agents, and absolutely no added sulphur (traces of sulphur will arise naturally). There is not yet a legal definition for natural wines, but I find the 'Charter of Quality' for the RAW Wine Fair to be the best guide on restrictions and allowances ” The resulting wines can be said to have a vitality and a liveliness which can’t be found anywhere else.
Matt of Freehand Wine says he saw Biodynamic viticulture as the next step forward in their winemaking back in 2008, and that Natural Winemaking practices followed shortly after. "The main benefit to Natural Wine has to be transparency of process.” Matt told us, "Nothing added means nothing but grape juice. This will always produce fresher, more unique, honest, interesting and seasonal wines (if the fruit is good!). Every Natural Wine is an individual."
"The inherent and essential "small batch" nature of NW precludes the economies of scale that larger-batch wineries operate with. We all know handmade looks, feels and tastes better. Wine is no different.” Said Matt.
Natural Wine may look like a new fringe movement, but Yoko of Brave New Wine was quick to point out that many of the practices are the original methods and processes for wine, "Nothing we do in the winery is anything new, really. That’s the thing about this move toward lo-fi. Minimum input winemaking is just a return to age-old technique."
Natural, Minimal Intervention, Lo-fi, oh my!
Since Natural Winemaking follows a pretty strict set of conditions, the term is often used as an umbrella which includes wines which adhere to most but not all of these rules, wines which use biodynamic fruit, wild yeast, and only a small amount of sulphur at the bottling stage can be called Minimal Intervention, Small Batch or Lo-fi wines.
"There’s a very blurred line between minimal intervention and natural wines,” Said Rachael "minimal intervention wines follow the process of no additions and nothing taken away, but the winemaker will still add some sulphur at the time of bottling just for preservation. Most of the wines here at Budburst are made in this way.”
Of the Winemakers we spoke to, Matt told us that Freehand self-identified as Natural Wine, telling us "Freehand wines are made with zero adds, in small batches from fruit we grew in our vineyard with help from biodynamic preps, picked on fruit days and bottled without any manipulation either minimal or otherwise.”
Yoko was more reserved, and whilst many wines from Brave New Wine are often placed amongst Natural Wines in bottle shops and wine lists, they do not use the label: "We sit somewhere in the middle, and have rarely felt comfortable calling ourselves “natural’ wine makers. We prefer the term lo-fi. Some of the vineyards we source from are managed organically, some are handled conventionally, we use some new oak, and we add minimal sulphites to our wines.”
Also different but sometimes included under the same umbrella are owner-operator wine labels: Wineries and wines which are singular, personal expressions by winemakers. Michael of Yelland & Papps makes wonderful and highly regarded wines, half of which are made in a minimal intervention style, and half which have added tartaric acid depending on vintage conditions. "We are not pigeon holed into any category,” said Michael, "we just do what is needed to make the style of wines we love.” For Michael, the additions of sulphur and acid to some of their wines has “Minimal cost,” explaining that, “for us, the benefits in using SO2 and Tartaric Acid are to contribute to making clean, balanced wines that are enjoyable to drink now or in 5-10 years time,” Their experimentation with new techniques, varietals and styles is a great example that the growing increase in natural wine production is not an ends in itself, but a larger trend toward high quality, bespoke and interesting wines for everyday consumption.
Aversions to Sulphur
The most noteworthy and the most contested aspect of Natural winemaking is the addition of Sulphur. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a preservative used in winemaking first explicitly mentioned in 1487. Sulphur kills yeasts and bacteria and protects wine from oxidation, and is used extensively in conventional winemaking in order to avoid potential for spoilage.
Rachael didn’t tell us that sulphur was expressly a bad thing in wine, "Whilst I prefer lofi wines, I'm not anti-sulphur by any means. If I owned a vineyard and had one time each year to make wine, I'm not sure I'd have the guts to go 100% natural, it's risky." However, she was quick to point out that things can get excessive, “Some companies use sulphur before you even get into the winery, they’ll pick and put all the grapes into big buckets and sprinkle sulphur straight away. Then sulphur can then be added before pressing, after pressing, at the end of fermentation, and at bottling.”
Excessive use of sulphur is detectable in the wine, Rachael told us "Anyone who works with wine can smell sulphur straight away, it generally overpowers the fruit, and you'll often hear people say ‘this smells like a headache'.” Other issues are more ideological, Rachael says people often liken natural wine to a living creature, and in using excessive sulphur you’re “Changing the true nature of the wine.”
Sulphur is not all bad however, and in small quantities can be useful or even essential in preventing spoilage. Most minimal intervention winemakers will use no sulphur throughout the vinification process, and only add a tiny amount at the point of bottling. This gives the wines a better ageing potential, and lessens the risk of any unwanted flavours or faults developing in the bottle.
Redefining Wine ‘Flaws’
Alongside using less sulphur, natural winemakers have begun reinterpreting the conventional perceptions toward flaws in winemaking. Flaws including cloudiness and oxidisation, and as far as more challenging flaws like Brettanomyces and Volatile Acidity.
Rachael can recall a number of instances throughout her career as a sommelier and bar owner where cloudiness has been unjustly perceived as a flaw. In one case, a patron at a restaurant she worked at insisted that a very expensive wine was faulty because it was not clear. The wine tasted perfect, and Rachael knew it was exactly as the winemaker had intended, but the patron could not be convinced. In another instance she saw a wine professional dismiss a local winemaker’s range before anyone had even tasted it.
Cloudiness comes from a lack of fining and filtration, processes which strip the wine of insoluble matter. In some times this is helpful and even necessary, but the cost is that flavour and character can be lost in the process. Fining processes such as filtration through egg whites or fish bladders, besides sounding a little unpleasant, can also make the wine unfriendly to vegans.
Oxidisation is another redefined flaw which Rachael finds particularly interesting. Oxidisation can come from from the winemaker deciding not to top up the wine in their barrels as it begins to evaporate, or the wine can be forcibly exposed to oxygen. The resulting wines can be citrusy, salty, and even briny. Sherry is made in this way and people often taste ‘sherry characteristics’.
"I feel like there’s a bit more leeway for how much oxidisation can be seen as a positive attribute. From a venue point of view, they can stay fresher for longer. Because they’ve already had a bit of exposure to oxygen, they stay at a similar level of freshness and don’t fall over as quickly as wines which are made with a lot of sulphur and fermented in stainless steel. For example, Sam Vincuillo’s wines can be open for three weeks, they’ll change in that time but not in a negative way.” If you’re a slow drinker like us, the prospect of a wine which will last weeks rather than days once opened is a huge selling point.
Exciting New Styles
"I feel like people have become more confident in their drinking choices over the last few years. Rather than wait for someone to tell them what they “should be drinking” according to a medal in a wine show, or points given by a wine writer, or some preconception (“I don’t drink chardonnay” for eg), they are now happy to try a wine and make their own mind up. Is it fucking delicious? Am I enjoying it? Is this wine inspiring some hearty conversation? If the answer is yes, then the wine is a goer! People will drink unfiltered, chunky wine. People will drink fizzy, funky wine. People will drink whole bunchy, spicy, reds. People will drink skinsy white wines made very much like red wines. IF. They are delicious.” - Yoko
Whilst very little in Natural and Lofi Winemaking is truly new, the movement has shone a light on a number of interesting and lesser-known styles, including:
“What is orange wine? Orange wine is delicious”, said Rachael. The skin contact wine is like a reverse rose, made by putting white wine through the processes generally reserved for red wine. The extended contact between the grape juice and it’s skins in orange wine gives the wine phenolics, texture, tannin and colour. Think red wine mouthfeel with unmistakable white wine flavours. "Like any method, there are certain levels which you can pull back from,” Said Rachael, You can have skin contact ranging from a few hours to forty days.”
Whilst we love a typical, funky orange wine, one of our favourite styles made by natural and minimal intervention winemakers are the white wines with just a small kiss of skin contact, making for a heavier, funkier and overall delicious white wine.
Pétillant-naturel is a method for sparkling wine which predates Champagne. Where in champagne a second fermentation is induced by introducing more sugar and yeast to fully fermented wine, Pet Nat is made by bottling wine before the primary fermentation has ended. The yeast continues to create alcohol and carbon dioxide in the pressurised environment of the bottle, and it is up to the winemaker to decide whether to disgorge the residual lees or to leave them in the bottle (Lees are the leftover particles from yeast, they are harmless to drink and can give wine texture and a toasty aroma). Since the fermentation has finished in bottle, Pet Nats are by definition unfined and unfiltered.
Despite being older, we think of Pet Nat as a funky younger sibling to Champagne. Losing some points in refinement but making them all up in being bold, fruity, and fun. Look for their trademark crown seal, and drink Pet Nat on the porch on a warm summer’s day.
Blending is nothing new in either conventional or minimal intervention winemaking, but smaller winemakers have experimented with new and lesser known blends. Examples include L.A.S Vino’s Albino Pinot, a flip of the 80/20 ratio of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which defines most champagnes, pressed into a clear, rosé style wine and botanical infusions like Brave New Wine's Wonderland and Dreamland botanical rieslings. The Wonderland riesling infused with native West Australian botanicals is exciting, bright and like nothing else in the market, and won them the Danger Zone award for ‘Most Adventurous Wine' at the 2017 Young Gun of Wine Awards.
Where to Start
If we’ve piqued your interest, you’re probably wondering where to start. The strong flavours from unfiltered wines may be surprising at first, so we find trying a bunch of wines at once to be a great start. Natural Wines really stand out amongst other wines and each other, so tasting events like the Budburst Wine Parties are a great place to start.
We love the whole range from the three producers we’ve featured, but our favourites are the Semillon from Freehand Wine, the 'Pi Oui' Pinot Noir from Brave New Wine, and whilst not a self-identifying minimal intervention wine, we think every wine fan should stock a bottle of Yelland & Papps’ Pinot Blanc, a white wine which suits any company and occasion.
Both Freehand and Brave New Wine put out delicious Pet Nats, and Brave New Wine make our favourite orange wine in their ‘Klusterphunk’ Chardonnay.
Rachael’s picks for Natural Wines were the ranges from Sam Vincuillo in Margaret River, and from Latta in Victoria. Budburst showcase great Natural and Minimal Intervention wines by the glass and the bottle. We also love picking up wine for home from The Re Store, The Wine Thief, and Mane Liqour.
Budburst are located in 406 Oxford St, Mount Hawthorn and open from 4pm until Midnight Tuesday-Saturday. Look for Brave New Wine, Yelland & Papps, and Freehand wine at good bottle shops, bars and restaurants.
We’re confident that bees are an important part of our ecosystem, but as consumers, we’re not always sure whether buying honey is helping, or hurting them. We spoke to Blaine Campbell from Honey I’m Home about terroir, sustainability, and honey, in order to find out how to get the best quality produce in a way which was sustainable and delicious.
Honey I'm Home
After beginning their beekeeping careers in 2010, Blaine and her husband Tristan suddenly found themselves with a huge influx of honey, they had more than they could give away to friends and family, and took a friend’s suggestion to sell at a local market. Seven years later, Blaine has just last month given up their last remaining market space, and is celebrating the second birthday of their Maylands store. Their store showcases West Australian honey from several hives of their own in addition to 5-6 similar sized producers, and 4-5 local retirees who keep their bees as a hobby but in some years still produce more honey than they can give away.
One side of the store is dedicated entirely to honey "just as the bees make it", whilst the wall opposite hosts gourmet lines including infused and whipper honeys alongside beeswax products. They even work with a local gelato maker to sell honey gelato in store. Working small and local allows Blaine to be sure that the people they represent in their store have similar values to their own, they can be sure that the apiarists they buy honey from are following similar beekeeping and hive management practices to their own, and that the artisans and producers they collaborate with are using local ingredients wherever possible, and employing sustainable practices.
Even the staff at Honey I’m Home are encouraged to live and breathe bees, “You can always talk to a beekeeper in our shop.” said Blaine "We try to get all of our employees into the hives so you can bring your ‘burning bee question’ to the shop at any time.”
All of the honey at Honey I’m Home is raw and filtered only though mesh bags to remove any large chunks of wax. The resulting honey is nuanced and complex, tasting almost nothing like the honey you’d find at a supermarket. Blaine and the rest of the crew are more than happy to have you taste each of their honeys which vary remarkably from their different locations and flowers. "We’re primary producers, and so we’re dependent on what happened a year ago, even up to a decade ago.” said Blaine, "Things like soil, climate, topography and species variation all contribute to the honey.”
As there is no processing applied to the honey from the hives to the store, their honey is more likely than their commercial counterparts to crystallise. Crystallisation is a natural and reversible process which happens to all honey over time as the sucrose content begins to build lattices. Honey has an unlimited shelf life, so Blaine urges consumers not to throw out their honey when they see a few crystals.
The bees from which honey is harvested are European species which have evolved to create as much surplus honey as possible in the three months of European summer, in order to survive the nine months in which it is too cold, wet and windy to fly. In Australia, we are lucky to have a much longer period of fine weather, and because of this our honey bees are the most productive in the world.
"The biological imperative of a honey bee is to make as much honey as they possibly can. When there’s a lot of honey to bring in, they just keep bringing it in, and if they fill up a hive or a tree hollow or your chimney, they split up and make another hive and make more honey. The only way to deprive them is to leave them without enough honey over winter."
“We don’t process our honey, so the hard part is getting the bees to the stage where they’re ready to give honey to us.” Blaine told us. The tools and processes of beekeeping have changed remarkably little in hundreds of years, but modern beekeepers are able to use sources like Google Maps and FloraBase where they would previously have to rely solely on local knowledge. “We’re a bit more flexible in that we're farmers without farms,” said Blaine, “If there aren’t any flowers in one place we can move elsewhere.”
How We Use Honey
Since discovering Honey I’m Home, we’ve found ourselves using more honey than ever before. Their the Maylands store is just 50 metres from The Woodfired Baker, and their honey shows beautifully on a slice of sourdough rye. We’ve taken to stirring honey into our ‘Cure All’ Chai and making a honey syrup for cocktails like the Bee’s Knees. Our favourite use for raw honey has to be putting an open jar or a piece of honeycomb on a cheeseboard, honey gives beautiful floral notes to soft cheese and cuts through the mould notes in blue cheeses.