ZUNDERT, The Netherlands
Camellia sinensis Hardy SPZ is a new plant variety that produces green teas of high quality, is ideally suited to local conditions and is noted for its beautiful appearance. It is an excellent base for home adoption. Within its first two years of production, it has won several international prizes, including the Gourmet d’Or prize in France.
Like all fine teas, you would assume it grows in a terroir of high mountain slopes, with subtropical rains and plenty of sun. In fact, it thrives in a country whose mountains gently rise to 322 meters, a little more than 1,000 feet. It is bred to thrive in temperatures as low as -20° Celsius; below 0° Fahrenheit – close to 40° below freezing point.
The SPZ stands for Special Plant Zundert, the name of the specialty nursery in Zundert in the Netherlands that developed the variety over an eight-year period and has been selling it for two as Tea By You. It’s an appropriate name. Johan Jansen, Zundert’s owner and the ingenuity, panache and business smarts driving Tea By Me, also merits the honorific tea master. He explains how he targeted his new plants as DYI – Do It Yourself: grow and craft your own tea, make your own blends, be a grower in your garden or house.
Jansen has been an avid tea drinker for many years. He spent six months in China, which turned his love into an ambition: to be the first to grow camellia sinsensis as a local tea that would be self-sustaining in the climate of Western Europe. (There are several compatible ventures further north, in Scotland, but these are targeted to professional farming and requite complex infrastructures, like heat lamps and X-ray soil monitoring). He obtained plants from Japan, which accounts for the sencha hints that several reviewers have noted in the tea. His team evolved them to meet the firm’s goal: “Let’s make tea local.” Commentators confirm Johan’s statement that no one before has succeeded in creating a European camellia sinensis.
He built and expanded his specialty nursery in Zundert. This is a beautiful part of the southern Netherlands, close to the Belgian border. It is the birthplace of Vincent Van Gogh. It accounts for 10 percent of Dutch nursery production, including strawberries, hedging plants and field-grown young trees. Its annual flower parade is the oldest in Europe and the largest in the world.
Specialty Plant Zundert is embedded in that nursery tradition. The firm is small but leveraged by automation and best practice packaging. It lacks distribution but has a growing reputation and base of customers. How extensively and quickly it can leverage this is obviously an open question, as for any small innovator looking to build an international online presence.
It seems to have an experiential dimension that differentiates it and that fits well into many of the emerging trends in tea innovation;
The product is striking and evocative: The firm was a big hit at the 2018 Great British Tea Festival, where attendees made their own tea using the two leaves and a bud traditional method. The wok is as much part of Tea By Me as the plant in its pot. The plant is of the quality that fine teas are made of and methods available for them to apply, for fun, curiosity or more serious investigation. That seems to be a unique feature that goes beyond the ornamental.
Most tea drinkers have never seen a tea bush: Tea tourism is a substantial growth segment in Darjeeling, Assam, Sri Lanka, Nagasaki, Dooars and other tea growing regions, often making use of old residences that can be turned into appealing old-world bed and breakfasts. It’s a truism that Millennials and the less easily labeled generations following them want to know more about their foods, authenticity, wellness, safety. Tea By Me offers a tangible and inexpensive small extra in making tea more real.
The major trends in tea are towards variety and new flavors, with botanicals core to innovation. Five years ago, cheese tea, bubble tea, kombucha and matcha-infused everything were not the drivers of any main market. The popularity of turmeric, peaflower, Andean herbs, chamomile, lavender and so many other spices and herbs are replacing artificial and chemical flavorings. Tea By Me captures this new “tea-ness” in tangible form, more so than even the fanciest tin of tea bags or glancing at a spoonful of even the finest Darjeeling first flush dry leaf.
Green tea is a smaller part of the global market than is generally assumed but gets most headlines for its connotations for being more natural, organic and packed with wellness properties. Tea By Me offers you your own green tea plant.
Sources: Johan Jansen. Tea By Me, Tea Chronicles, Dutch TV media