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Scottish from seed - Makers of pure hand-made tea

TEA GARDENS OF SCOTLAND

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SCOTTISH TEA LADIES STORM LONDON’S LUXURY MARKET

The Tea Gardens of Scotland, new artisanal tea brand, launch Nine Ladies Dancing and have landed orders with Fortnum & Mason and The Corinthia Hotel with its first batch of tea plucked from nine independent tea gardens across Scotland.

This pioneering collaboration is the result of four years of planning, with nine women entrepreneurs creating the Tea Gardens of Scotland collective in 2016. With a mission to produce a revolutionary wave of authentic, hand-crafted Scottish tea, each of these ladies forged new careers as tea planters, transforming abandoned walled gardens, diversifying farms and converting home gardens in Perthshire, Fife and Angus and Kincardineshire. They shared glasshouses and machinery, and as a united force they propagated tea plants from seed in distinctive sheltered micro-climates round the country.

The result of the collaboration is a 100% pure Scottish-grown black tea. Golden, smooth and with sweet notes of dried fruits, caramel and chocolate, it is slightly woody, layered and complex. Its launch has attracted attention from the top end of the market, with initial orders placed by two giants in the industry: the rare tea counter at Fortnum & Mason; and the Royal Penthouse Suite at The Corinthia, one of London's most prestigious hotels which takes its tea very seriously.

Tea Consultant Beverly Wainwright, who has set up The Scottish Tea Factory, worked with and advised the group for several years on everything from growing to tea making. She said, “The conditions for growing tea in Scotland are far from ideal, with a very short growing season, harsh winters and low light levels. Attempting to grow tea is not for the faint hearted and in the early days has been, by necessity, experimental. Trials with different plant material, winter and wind crop protection have all been part of the process. The concept of rehabilitating old abandoned walled gardens to grow tea in a more protected environment has not been without its challenges but these gardens are now beginning to flourish. The first teas being created are showing great promise with a distinct flavour profile, significantly influenced by the low light levels and long daylight hours of Scottish summer”

Susie Walker Munro of Kinnettles Tea Garden in Angus spearheaded the collective by bringing the other eight ladies together. Who, as a group, were awarded Leader funding for a feasibility study to grow tea from seed in Scotland. This then led to the group instructing authenticity trials with Aberdeen University to successfully prove the provenance of Scottish tea.

A spokeswoman for Tea Gardens of Scotland said “We believe that this, combined with our passion, makes Nine Ladies Dancing a tea that connoisseurs should watch out for - and we are thrilled that both The Corinthia and Fortnum & Mason are our early adopters.”

The commitment to growing 100% pure Scottish tea meant the collective faced a number of challenges. Being in locations spread out across Scotland, each garden begins its spring and starts its winter at slightly different times, battling unpredictable elements and wildlife. There is a shorter growing season in Scotland, with many variatals within the seeds not suited to cold winters. This called for innovative techniques such as using sheep wool for mulch, steeping organic fertilisers, and trialling seeds grown both in seed beds and straight into the ground. As a result, it is a slow process to establish a mature bush that can withstand the rigours of regular plucking. The current four-year-old plants are still undergoing formative pruning and won’t reach maturity for a further two to three years, which is why there are currently such small quantities of tea being produced.

Beverly said in closing, “Moving from Sri Lanka where I managed a tea estate back to Scotland and having grown tea in ideal conditions required quite a shift in thinking. Clearly, establishing tea plants in Scotland was going to require new ideas. The need to experiment with growing techniques, crop protection and ultimately tea making, the only way to make progress. The last four years have thrown up many challenges including major plant losses after a very harsh winter in the early years. All credit to the TGS team for their tenacity, willingness to learn and change track when needed. The fact that the plants are now beginning to flourish is to their credit. Short growing seasons, infilling where plant losses occurred, and the process of formative pruning has meant that the path to establishing the plants is extremely slow. Currently the oldest outdoor plants have been in the ground for 4 years and we estimate 7 years from planting to full maturity. Despite the challenges, this has been an exciting journey and at last work has started to create finished teas in the Scottish Tea Factory for the group. The quantities of tea being currently made are tiny, just a few kilos a year, making Scottish tea one of the rarest in the world.”

As the tea plants begin to mature in year five, the ambition for the Tea Gardens of Scotland collective is to secure a reputation as world class tea producers, promoting tea tourism and riding the revolutionary wave of authentic, hand-crafted Scottish tea.

* Tea Gardens of Scotland experimented with seed types from different regions around the world, settling on cold-hardy varieties from Nepal (high altitude Ilam District) and Georgia (formerly Soviet Russia).

* In years one to two, 41,000 tea seeds were propagated in an agricultural green house. In year three the seedlings were planted out into the tea gardens.

* The finished tea was made and processed in small batches by the Scottish Tea Factory near Crieff, the first small scale tea factory to be established in Scotland.

* The Tea Gardens of Scotland collective is committed to authenticity and provenance. It funded research to run a pilot study using Ionomics with the School of Biological Sciences at Aberdeen University and The Scottish Tea Factory, pinpointing exactly where in the world the tea was grown. This research is designed to lay the groundwork for more stringent checks and greater reassurance for consumers.

* Due to the success with seed propagation, cold-hardy camellia sinensis Scottish tea plants are being grown by Kinnettles Tea Garden for private and commercial growers.

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