Innovative Scottish Tea Weathers Cold

SUMMARY: Agro innovations demonstrate that tea can be grown commercially in frosty Scotland.

TLOGO-DalreochTea_WeeTeaCompanyam O’Braan, founder of The Wee Tea Plantation planted his first tea saplings in 2011, just in time to weather the coldest Scottish winter in 200 years. It took more than a miracle for that initial planting to survive.

The seedlings were planted under specially formulated plastic with synthetic pellets that reflect light and retain heat. Protective polymer sleeves were used to deflect part of the solar spectrum to keep the plants warm. The long rows of sleeves retain nutrients that otherwise evaporate and eventually degrade into the soil. Trunk guards encourage deep root growth. These cold-weather pruning techniques may revolutionize tea production globally.

The plants survived three challenging years, but how is the tea you ask?

Last August O’Braan’s Dalreoch Farm Estate in Amulree produced 1,100 lbs. of tea — a small yield for commercial ventures but the single estate white tea is now selling for an amazing $55 for 15 grams/$90 for 25g or $3600 per kilo. It is the second most expensive tea that legendary London tea retailer Fortnum & Mason has ever offered.

Tea saplings growing in Scotland

Tea saplings growing in Scotland

O’Braan, 44, a Northern Irish agronomist and chemical engineer, is owner and managing director at Dalreoch. He introduced these promising cold-weather growing techniques and modern aids to produce healthful, hearty tea that is rich in antioxidants. He began a laboratory plot in 2011 using a variety of tea plant grown in northern Italy. He adapted rigid plastic trunk guards and sleeves made of biodegradable polymers from his previous work in rainforest countries.

Camellia sinensis is a hearty plant that grows at altitudes of up to 7,500 feet but is vulnerable to frost damage in its early years. Once firmly established, it can withstand several weeks of temperatures down to 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-11C).

Taking the tea into a commercial arena involved going into business with The Wee Tea Company founders and Derek Walker, 41 and Jamie Russell, 36.

Jamie had worked in the industry for more than 20 years and took charge of the journey from leaf to lip. Working with advice from other artisan plantations he has developed flushes of Scottish leaf into unique White, Green and Black teas. Walker successfully sold the quirky idea of Scottish tea into something that’s now taken seriously.

WTN141215_ART_SmokedTea_WeeTeaCompanyRussell and Walker came up with the idea of ‘cold smoking’ O’Braan’s delicate new leaves, to develop the world’s first Smoked White tea using locally grown beech wood. The taste is not unlike a single malt whisky with hints of peat and heather.

O’Braan chose hilly land in the Highland Perthshire that was rich in nutrients and watered by a mountain spring. His initial planting was 2,000 tea bushes but now expanded to 14,000. Tea plants that survived these first few years will produce leaves for at least 30 years and possibly 50.

Russell and Walker help process the garden’s white, green and beech-smoked black tea produced from O’Braan’s delicate new leaves.

O’Braan removes 80% of the lower foliage every six weeks, a much harsher pruning regimen than tea grown in warmer climes. The opaque polymer sleeves protect the plant from winds and shield the developing leaves from UV rays, encouraging greater productivity during the short growing season. The sleeves also reflect sunlight upward, illuminating the bottom of the leaves “doubling the effect of Scottish sunshine but also reducing the shade preferred by insects,” he explains.
“We don’t use petrochemical-based pesticide meaning airborne insects are discouraged from planting eggs on our crops through reflected sunlight,” O’Braan explained to Bruce Richardson, who described the process in his blog: The Tea Maestro.

‘The same degradable membrane traps the heat already within our soil and heightens humidity while reducing the need for any secondary watering,” O’Braan told Richardson.

The group has since established a Tea Growers Association with four other growers already planting and more showing interest. The alliance enables growers to pool resources and create a support network that could allow for more than one business to exist, O’Braan told Farmer’s weekly.

“We knew if we didn’t share what had been achieved, we’d be limiting the capability tea offers and did not want to be that selfish,” he added. “It’s an industry, not just one farm.”

Learn more:  www.weeteacompany.com or email O’Braan at tam.obraan@weeteaplantation.com

Sources: Wee Tea Company, Daily Mail, Farmer’s Weekly, The Tea Maestro

Correction: An earlier version failed to identify Tam O’Braan as the founder and managing director of the Dalreoch Farm Estate (The Wee Tea Plantation). O’Braan and Derek Walker and Jamie Russell are business partners in The Wee Tea Company.

 

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Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.