Tea grower turning over a new leaf

A pot of tea is the ultimate in relaxation. A cup of chamomile to destress after a long day at work, a sip of lavender-infused brew to ease you into sleep, a strong black mug to natter over with friends.

Even brewing a single cup is a relatively easy and calming process - the only big decision is how long the teabag should steep for.

But growing and processing tea is a different procedure altogether.

Foxground tea grower Kirsten McHugh has been cultivating the plants on her property for several years and has so far created five different varieties - a straight green tea, as well as one infused with lavender and another with lemon grass and lemon balm, a winter tea and a light black tea.

It took a lot of experimentation to get the harvesting, heating, drying and processing steps right, mostly because there was little information available on how to grow tea at a grass-roots level.

"It was a lot of trial and error," McHugh laughs.

"There were a fair amount of tea leaves that ended up as garden mulch at the start."

McHugh, along with her husband, John Timbs, and friends Fiona Walmsley and Jadon Lavington, has transformed the old Toolijooa schoolhouse in Gerringong into a space to work on her teas and give people the chance to taste them.

The Schoolhouse has separate spaces for McHugh to dry and package the tea and for people to try and buy the final product.

A sampling bench runs the length of one room and will be stocked with teas including McHugh's creations and herbal infusions, for people to try in Chinese-style tasting cups.McHugh has also developed a range of iced tea cordials, including one spiked with lemon grass and a chai-flavoured syrup, so people can enjoy tea on hot days.

McHugh is in the process of turning another room in The Schoolhouse into a cheese-making space. She is looking to create fresh cheeses from local milk, which will be available to taste and purchase.

"To start with we'll focus on making fresh curd cheeses and a marinated fresh curd cheese, start doing some fairly soft cheeses and then we'll gradually add to the mix some semi-hard and harder-style cheese."

McHugh hopes to hold both tea and cheese-making workshops.

The Schoolhouse, on Victoria St in Gerringong, is open Thursdays to Saturdays between 10am and 4pm.

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