Lee Heng | My Blue Tea

2 minutes with Lee Heng
Occupation: owner/operator
Business: My Blue Tea
Lives: Port Macquarie, NSW
Age: 50


What was the food culture in your family growing up?
Multi-racial & international – eating is Malaysia’s national sport. The normal greeting back then was ‘have you eaten?’ Rice is a staple alongside other dishes, usually a couple of proteins, a vegetable and a soup. But we also love our curries, roti canai and nasi lemak which we sometimes have for breakfast.

Any specific memories around the butterfly pea that you can recall?
Growing up and being awed with all these blue kueh (sweets or desserts). Almost every house has a plant but most don’t use them in cooking. Only recently, people have become more health conscious so the trend is increasing and I’ve simply expanded on that.

Is the butterfly pea flower traditionally used as a food or medicine?
Originally, it was considered a food colouring by the Straits Chinese of Malacca, which is now part of Malaysia. It was used to create blue rice and a blue sticky rice dessert called pulut tai-tai. Slowly, it appeared in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a number of ailments for women, and in India where it is considered Ayurvedic. They are also grown in Australia and are good for the soil by adding nitrogen back into the ground. So they are good for the soil and the soul.

Tell us about your favourite ways to use My Blue Tea powders.
Aside from the colour changing properties of the powders, I actually enjoy seeing the way chefs and bakers are using the various powders to create their products.

A Brisbane client is making all natural cleaning products. In Perth, the first natural blue gelato with sea salt is gaining a loyal following. Trending now in Sydney is both the butterfly pea sourdough and the purple sweet potato sourdough. We displayed these at the Sydney Tea Festival and it received a huge amount of interest. The colours are gorgeous and taste yum!

Why did you want to start your own business?
Over the last few years, I saw that people were seeking to improve their overall health and well-being and were turning to healthier inputs into their diets. After researching trends around health and superfoods, I decided to start My Blue Tea based on natural and organic plant-based products. Slowly, the business morphed and grew with other tropical plants and we have now added a range of ‘exotic lattes.’ 

What has been the most challenging thing so far and how have you dealt with it?  
Helping others to cook when they’re better cooks than myself. Also, trying to expand from food-based into other applications, such as health and beauty products. We now have some customers making bath bombs, bath salts and sugars, as well as facial waters. Another client is also using the products to make play dough. The only negative is the children love it too much and they eat the Kaffir lime leaf play dough because it tastes too good.

Why do you sell freeze-dried powders and how do you go about manufacturing them?
Many years ago, I was involved in a project with turmeric juice, looking at the costs involved, distribution etc. Powder was the obvious way to go. The freeze-drying process is not new, but the process we use ensures that the nutrients and health benefits are retained in the end products, and it avoids any chemical process, so it is better for you.

How would you like to see My Blue Tea grow as a business in the future?
Besides blue, we would also like to introduce other exotic Asian flavours to Australia and we have recently added durian powder, which is great in lattes, and purple sweet potato powder. Colour is a huge factor in both what and how much people eat. If we’ve learnt anything from M&M’S, it must be that even though all the colours taste exactly the same, the human mind sees the variety of colours attractive, fun and tempting.

Like all business owners, I would love the business to grow exponentially. It can do so with the growth in acceptance and appeal of the health benefits of our plant-based powders.

If you love blue, you can follow Lee’s Insta feed @my.blue.tea for her gorgeous creations with the butterfly pea flower.

Interview by Amanda Kennedy @artbyamandakennedy

Lee Heng cropped.jpg

Tessa Brown | Vignerons Schmolzer & Brown

Tessa Brown.jpg

2 minutes with Tessa Brown
Occupation: Winemaker/ Viticulturist
Business: Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown
Lives: Beechworth
Age: 39

www.vsandb.com.au (coming soon)

Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown are new players in the Australian wine industry. Tell us about it.
My partner Jeremy and I had talked about planting a vineyard since 2007. We found land in 2012 and are still in the trenches of establishment, though we’re starting to pay bills a little less late now. Planting a vineyard is far more expensive than you think, even with twenty years of experience. We've planted two hectares at the highest altitude with Chardonnay, Riesling, Nebbiolo and Shiraz.

Why did you want to start your own wine business?
For many of the reasons other people do – artistic freedom, the possibility of doing better financially. At age 33, I was coming up against discrimination: the presumption that I’d have kids soon and move out of wine production into sales and marketing. I fought it for a while but it became untenable, and the land came up at the right time.

How do your wines fit within the greater wine community of Beechworth?
We're a bit different to most Beechworth wine businesses. To balance out the money we sank into planting, we started making wine with purchased fruit, including some from the King and Alpine Valleys. Most Beechworth vignerons are 100% Beechworth fruit. Also, our style is more modern than is typical in Beechworth. We use less new oak and have less time in barrel before bottling, but we do observe other local techniques, like basket pressing, wild yeast, allowing malo to go through in Chardonnay. We fit in but in our own way.

What does a complex issue such as sustainability in the wine industry mean to you:
In the vineyard?
I have this one worked out the most. Grapes in Australia are an introduced species that we plant in a monoculture, on land stolen from First Nations People. Keeping that in mind helps keep things real. We have eighteen hectares of land on our farm, and only a maximum of four that we're likely to plant vines on. When the business can afford it, we plan to integrate a mix of crops, trees and animals to make nutrient cycling effective and functional.

It's a shame life is so short, because I have about 100 years of work to do to get our farm, Thorley, humming as a system. I also hope to get to a point where we start to pay the rent socially. I don't know what shape that will take, but we'll get input from Aboriginal people that leads us in the right direction. Financial, environmental and social sustainability is a lot of balls to keep in the air but it's worth trying for.

In the winery?
Winery operations are a shadow dance to the vineyard's growing season and although the work happens indoors it can’t be separated from the vineyard. We're using fewer cleaning chemicals now, but that means using more water and more power to generate heat, though water is not an issue where we are, with a 1100mm annual rainfall. When we eventually build the winery it will almost certainly be off the grid. Grape marc goes into compost which goes back to the vineyard, so the main waste challenges are packaging. Cardboard can be shredded and composted, but plastic is trickier. I'm interested to see if any leadership emerges with respect to Australia's recycling, other than shipping waste off to a developing country and giving ourselves a pat on the back.

In the bottle?
This is a thornier question. I don't see a short or even medium term solution to taking carbon miles out of our wines. Of course, I do support eating locally-produced food, but I need people in other cities to want to drink our wine. The bottles come from either France or the UAE, so the embodied energy is higher than local bottles, which are sadly less attractive than the imports.

What are your top five tips for someone wanting to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle?

  • ·Don't have more than two kids
  • Vote for policies that move away from fossil fuels
  • Live in smaller spaces and make do with less
  • Research what you consume (but that's hard to do this when you're working two jobs to keep the rent paid and clothes on the kids)
  • Respect that sustainability in Australia and other western nations is linked with class. It’s easier to live with a small footprint if you're well-off and well-educated. If you want to make sustainability possible for everyone, you also need to vote for policies that redistribute wealth

If we were to visit you in Beechworth, where should we eat and drink?
A glass of wine at the Cellar Door Wine Store is a must in the afternoons, followed by a meal at Provenance Restaurant if you're splurging, or The Ox and Hound for a warm, relaxed bistro affair.

Pick one of your wines and your favourite thing to eat with it.
My chef friend, Sally Wright from Tastetrekkers, made us a chestnut congee a few months back that totally blew my hair back. It's a humble dish, but warming and inventive all at once, and was great with a glass of our 2016 Brunnen Pinot Noir.

Follow Tessa and her life in wine on Instagram @vsandbwines

Interview by Amanda Kennedy. Amanda is an artist currently doing a writing degree. You can find her on Instagram @artbyamandakennedy


Alexx Stuart | Low Tox Life

Photography by Rob Palmer

Photography by Rob Palmer

2 minutes with Alexx Stuart
Occupation: educator, activist, change agent and now author
Business: Low Tox Life
Lives: Sydney East
Age: 41


What was the food culture of your family growing up and how does that compare with the one you’re creating for your own family now?
I've had a beautifully mixed food culture in my family. We're French/Mauritian on Mum's side and British on Dad's – so everything from French, Indian, Créole, African, British influences through our day-to-day eating. Plus a great whack of convenience-led takeaways, because I was a child of the 80s and that's what we all did. I guess the main difference now is a deeper understanding of where our food comes from. From my work and research I now place a stronger emphasis on produce rather than products.

What were you doing before you pursued your path into Low Tox Life?
I was in two industries before starting Low Tox Life. Firstly, Prestige Beauty and Fragrance and then what I called my quarter life crisis and starting in hospitality with a brief foray into singing in bars and nightclubs (as you do). Over time, I started to piece together why I often felt so dreadful. I felt called to share what I was learning, firstly with friends and family, and then the wider community. I want to share the information about what we put on us, in us as food and what we surround ourselves within our homes.

Where do you get your enthusiasm and energy from?
Helping people live their best lives and leave a healthier planet behind for our kids – that makes it pretty darn easy to wake up every day and be excited.

What are the most rewarding things about what you do?
Seeing people's life-changing comments once they've been through one of our courses; meeting people at talks and workshops, and receiving messages about how one of the podcasts was a game-changer for the health of their child. It honestly blows my mind and I'm so grateful for the beautiful exchange of energy between me and our community. Social media is the absolute last thing I would hand over to someone else in my team. I just love chatting with people, helping them, and working on puzzles together. It's the best!

If we were to visit, what recipe from Low Tox Life book would you prepare for us?
If we were going to have a long lunch, it'd be the Mauritian feast in my book. I love showing off Mauritian food – everyone always loves it. For dessert, we'd wait a couple of hours and then have the spiced fig gingerbread with a cup of Mauritian vanilla tea which always reminds me of my grandmère.

What is your favourite food indulgence?
85% chocolate. Not a day goes by without it.

Who was one of your favourite foodies that you’ve interviewed on your podcast and why
Jude Blereau (read our interview with Jude here). She is a dear friend and the fairy godmother of the whole-food movement here in Australia. Her passion for food and the joy you hear in her voice when she speaks about cooking is enough to carry you into the kitchen to cook for 20.

What is the one message you want the readers of your new book to takeaway from it?
That if you are wanting to make changes, do it at your pace and in your way so that all your changes resonate along the way. I am not your guru. There is no ‘perfect way’ to do a low tox life and if you're feeling overwhelmed or guilty - don't! You can't be hard on yourself for what you didn't know yesterday. Just get excited for what you are going to change from today, now that you know differently.

Alexx’s book is called Low Tox Life: A handbook for a healthy you and a happy planet (Murdoch Books) and is available now, check it out here. You can also follow Alexx on Instagram @lowtoxlife

Interview by Amanda Kennedy. Amanda is an artist currently doing a writing degree. You can find her on Instagram @artbyamandakennedy