Tea Growing in Portuguese Azores

Stunning colour of the azaleas in January
Stunning colour of the azaleas in January

Of all the things I expected to find in the Azores, that group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, stunning scenery, beautiful architecture, charming people and good food, tea was not on my list. When I say tea, I don’t mean the tea you find in tea-rooms and restaurants, I mean tea growing on hillsides and gathered in traditional ways.  So far from the Orient, so almost Europe, the tea is delicious.

When one thinks of tea, one usually thinks of Chinese or Indian, but I was more than a little surprised to find that the tea grown in the Azores, on hillsides that attract heat and rain in just the right quantities for this particular type of leaf, is quite delightful.

Frequent mistiness keeps the pastures lush.
Frequent mistiness keeps the pastures lush.

It is believed that tea was first discovered in China in 2737 BC.  Legend has it that the Emperor Shen-Nung, who drank boiled water for his health, was one day enjoying this plain beverage when some leaves accidentally blew into the drinking vessel:  the resultant savoury and aromatic brew started the passion for tea drinking.

It wasn’t until the Portuguese expeditions to the Orient 16th century, that the western world discovered the wonders of tea, but it was the Dutch and the English who developed the trade in Europe in the 18th century, which later reached the Americas.  Today, few houses in the world are without this popular beverage whether it is in the form of speciality teas, robust breakfast tea, or the current favourite,  green tea.

The Azores is the furthest point from Europe in which tea is grown.  It was introduced to the islands in 1820 when one Jacinto Leite started the first plantation in São Miguel, with seeds which he brought from Brazil, where he had been Commander of the Royal Guards in the court of Dom João V1.

Tea plantations very quickly took over from citrus growing on the island during the 19th century and in the 1850’s tea production reached approximately 250 tons – a lot for a small island.  Sadly, wars and a policy that protected the Mozambique tea industry, severely affected tea production in the Azores, and by 1966 there were only 5 of the original 14 tea manufacturers left.

Swirley black and white marble mosaic pavements
Swirley black and white marble mosaic pavements

One of these was the Gorreana Tea Factory (Chá Gorreana) which had been founded in 1883 by the Gago da Câmara family and which today produces nearly 40 tons of a strong-flavoured tea annually, three-quarters of which is sold with the region.  One of the things that sets Gorreana’s tea apart from others is that it is purely organic, as neither pesticides nor fungicides are needed in the region, as no pests exist in the islands.

The Gorreana Tea Factory produces 3 types of black tea – Orange Pekoe (a light and aromatic tea produced from the first leaf),  Pekoe (fuller –flavoured than the Orange Pekoe and prepared from the second leaf) and Broken Tea (produced from the lowest leaf).  It also produces a Green Tea (Hysso) rich in tannins with a very full flavour and green colour.

The islands of the Azores are delightful for many reasons, their exotic flowers, the dazzling colours of the blooms against the lush green grass, the charming people and the feeling of stepping back fifty years, but their tea is something quite special and should be sampled while on the islands.  It also makes a perfect gift to take home for friends.

Further details http://www.gorreana.com

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