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The Indigenous tea business that won Gordon Ramsay’s seal of approval

10:30am May 31 2024

Troy Benjamin, co-founder of Blak Brews and a winner of Channel 9's Food Stars show. (Supplied)

You may recognise him as a winner of Channel 9’s hit TV show, Food Stars, but Troy Benjamin had a gut feeling he was onto something with his brand Blak Brews well before he won the $250,000 investment – and Gordon Ramsay’s tick of approval.

With his wife and business partner, Cerisa, Troy founded Blak Brews in 2023, offering premium, ethically sourced tea with native Australian ingredients.

“People talk about superfoods like blueberries and chia seeds – Australian products knock blueberries out of the park!” says Troy, a Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi, Muti Muti and Wamba Wamba man, in an interview with Wire.

The business is going from strength to strength, aided by Troy’s appearance on Food Stars. He says his time on the reality show for food entrepreneurs was “intense, often gruelling” but has proved a game changer.

In addition to the financial backing - a lifeline for a fledging start up – Troy also gets a year-long mentorship with Ramsay: a priceless opportunity to learn from the celebrity chef and CEO.

“Gordon shared so many nuggets of wisdom, such as divide and conquer. He constantly said that to us, ‘Who’s leading, and who’s following?’ Now, that’s the first thing I think about in the messy points of life. He reminded me to not try to do it all, and to start delegating” he says.

“He also encouraged us to think quickly, “Hurry up, make a decision and go for it”.

Troy has picked up a few tips of his own over a decade-long career in hospitality prior to starting up Blak Brews.

Cerisa and Troy Benjamin. (Supplied)

A Westpac business customer, Troy Benjamin’s entrepreneurship journey began running a tiny café on Melbourne’s bustling Flinders Street. Opening, operating and - after seven years - selling the three-by-three metre café instilled in him a strong work ethic and innate drive to understand his customers.

“Too often operators and entrepreneurs want to run their ideas to their own preference, without first testing the market or asking the very people that they want to sell to,” he says.

“The hospitality business is a ruthless game, but the entrepreneur finds creative ways to stay alive.”

Blak Brews isn’t just staying alive, it’s thriving. The unique product offering- teas infused with native herbs and bush foods such as lemon myrtle, strawberry gum, native oregano and quandong (which contains twice the vitamin C of an orange) - was borne out of Troy and Cerisa’s passion for native produce.

An homage to their proud Indigenous heritage, bush tucker like this has been consumed by their ancestors for over 60,000 years. However, it’s by no means simply a relic of the past: Troy points out that Cerisa’s family, who are from Katherine, NT “still live off country and use some of these wild plants for teas and for medicinal purposes.”

“Vitamin c levels, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, even medicinal properties. [Cerisa’s] family up north still use native lemon grass instead of Paracetamol – they rub it on sores.”

Not only dubbed the next superfoods, nutrient rich natives such as lemon myrtle – a beautifully fragrant shrub - also offer a unique and exciting experience to the palette.

“Lemon myrtle is hard to describe, kind of like Coca Cola – what flavour is it? It’s a combination of heaps of favourite flavours and smells: cinnamon, citrus – it’s lime and lemon, it's mild. It’s also sweet, but then you see it used in savoury dishes.”

Blak Brews teas. (Supplied)

Beyond the teas, Indigenous ingredients offer distinct, flavoursome alternatives that are a reflection of the landscape on which they grow. No wonder some Australians are already looking for ways to incorporate them in everyday cooking.

“I think when people catch on here and start using [these sorts of ingredients] in their cooking, it will start to replace the common herbs and spices because its way better for you,” Troy says.

As a First Nations-owned and operated business that fuses tradition with innovation, the company’s aim is to bring Indigenous culture to a wider audience through tea blends including Red Centre, Desert Sunrise and Ramsay’s favourite, Kakadu Sunset.

“This isn’t just an Indigenous product only for Indigenous consumers – this grows on the land that we share. All Aussies can call it their own.”

What are they brewing up next with this newfound capital? Tea-lovers can look forward to smoky teas, and a chai range.

Conscious that Blak Brews might be the first time some consumers have tasted bushfood flavours, Troy hopes his tea can help start a dialogue to share culture, connection and land.

“The invite is there for everyone to take some time with a cup of tea, enjoy a quiet moment, smell the flowers… to consider what space they are in. We are all so lucky to be in such a great country – we need to protect and honour it,” he says.

Troy’s top tips for supporting Indigenous communities, during Reconciliation Week and beyond

- Lead with curiosity. “I like when people get curious, even about touchy topics. You have to come in sensitively, because it might hit close to home.”

- Invite respectful conversation, and don’t steer away from hard topics. “Reconciliation Week is a good time to open up those conversations.”

- However, be mindful that these times of the year – Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week - can be tough for First Nations people, so “be open to having conversations outside of these events – like while grabbing a coffee or at a non-work function like a dinner – that would build a better bridge, rather than it potentially feeling transactional.”

- “Speak to someone as if they are already your good friend.”

- Focus on similarities, not differences. “You end up finding out we are all so similar.”

- Be empathetic. “Think less about yourself, and more about the other person – be selfless.”

Marina Gainulina (she/her) is a Content Producer for Westpac Wire. Before joining the team, she was a commercial and editorial content producer and marketer for global luxury brands including Hugo Boss and Tiffany & Co and has almost a decade of experience in marketing and communications.

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