Tea Grown in 'Europe'

Two tea experts from Portuguese Macau at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta opposite British Hong Kong, started Tea production in the Açores in September 1874.

After only five years of tea production, The New York Times July 27th 1879 wrote “The first outcome of the tea-growing in the Azores is shown in a sample recently received at the Kew Museum from Senor Jose Do Canto. The sample is of good appearance, the smell is also good; and the flavour of the infusion by no means to be despised.” The tea soon found favour throughout the European Houses of Royalty and heads of state as well as Japanese Royalty.

The growing and production techniques have remained unchanged for over 140 years, after plucking, which occurs between April and September, the fresh leaves are sorted and cleaned. Leaves destined to become green tea are then steamed and then all the leaves undergo a drying stage with the pure Atlantic Ocean air adding a unique fragrance.

The Gorreana Estate was one of the earliest green and black tea producers and has been in continuous production since 1883. These mineral rich Azores Mountains bathed in pure ocean breezes provide the ideal growing conditions for tea production. The unaltered method of growing has meant continuous Organic cultivation before organic even became a ‘thing’.

In 1662, Catherine Braganza of Portugal married King Charles II and brought with her tea to the Royal Court of England, this started a trend, initially taken up by the aristocracy, which has never diminished. The fashion soon spread beyond the elite to the middle classes and was taken up in London Coffee Houses. Although the tea drunk then would be considered undrinkable now, between 1660 and 1689 tea was taxed in liquid form, the whole of the day’s tea would be brewed in the early morning, taxed by a visiting excise officer, and then kept in barrels and reheated as necessary throughout the day. Luckily after 1689 tea was taxed by leaf rather than liquid.

Founded by the Gago da Camara family, Gorreana’s tea estate is the only remaining estate of an original fourteen tea producing estates and has remained family owned and run for five generations, They still use the original ancient techniques passed down generation to generation initiated by the founder of the Promotional Society of Micaelense Agriculture, Jose do Canto, back in 1874. Production of tea in the Azores reached its greatest level in the 1930’s producing well over 700 tons annually, however high costs for labour and electricity saw the eventual diversification into other agricultural products. Luckily in the 1920’s, Gorreana’s Jamie Hintze utilised the stream flowing through the estate to produce electricity, so when electricity prices rocketed throughout Europe, the Gorreana Estate was able to continue by using its very own eco-friendly green energy.

We have selected the Gorreana Orange Pekoe, premium grade black tea, which only uses the first leaf plucking method where only the bud is taken. These hand selected buds have been harvested this way for five generations, a perfect selection for the connoisseur tea drinker who only wants the best. Helen thinks this is a wonderfully delicate, clean tea that is really distinctive, no astringency, pronounced tannins but not even slightly chewy. Helen likes it with milk but I felt it was perfect without. I prepared it with boiling water and steeped for five minutes.

Our other selection is the Encosta de Bruma premium Organic green tea. Encosta de Bruma translates from the Portuguese as ‘Hillside Mist’, and it is these mists that are responsible for the fine growing conditions found on these verdant mountains. Hand plucked these first leaf or more accurately, buds are carefully cleaned and then steamed to stop fermentation. These buds are from the first flush of growth in the spring and are only collected in April or May.

I used hot water at 80o C and steeped for three and a half minutes. A very tantalising aroma and delicate taste. I could happily drink this as an afternoon tea and I feel this is one of the finest quality green teas we have had for a while.

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