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It's a surprising fact that tea is now being grown in England. Yes, the first ever English tea plantation is on the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall.

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Some people find it hard to believe, but it’s true. Tea is now being grown in England. It’s happening on the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall, where tea is now being grown and manufactured.

Cornish micro climate

It’s all down to the micro climate of Cornwall. Surprisingly, it’s very similar to the climate in Darjeeling. Even more surprising, the minimum temperatures in Cornwall are a few degrees higher than the minimum temperature in Darjeeling. That’s why it’s become the first tea growing region in the United Kingdom. Tregothnan first planted ornamental Tea over 200 years ago.

History of the Tregothnan Estate

The Tregothnan estate is just outside Truro, not far from the River Fal. Translated from Cornish 'Tregothnan' means 'The House at the Head of the Valley'. Since 1335, estate has belonged to the the Boscawen family. The Tregothnan Estate is large, larger than the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles’s back garden. It has 100-acres of ornamental garden and a four mile drive up to the house.

Interest in botany

For generations, the Boscawen family have been interested in plants. The estate was the first place in  Britain to cultivate ornamental camellias outside. The current owner, the Honorable Evelyn Boscawen, is passionate about plants and is determined to make Tregothnan a leading botanical garden.

Tea production

Tregothnan first planted ornamental Tea over 200 years ago. But in 1996, Jonathon Jones, a gardener at Tregothnan, suggested that part of the estate could be used for growing tea. His rationale was that ornamental camellias, a close relation of tea plants, were thriving on the estate. It would be a small step to introduce camellia sinensis, the tea plant. Jones had noted that the climate was very similar to Darjeeling – lots of rain and a narrow range of temperature extremes.

Selecting tea plants

Jones gained the agreement of the botanical team at Tregothnan and set of on a tour of the UK, collecting samples from tea bushes known to be growing outside. He also secured funding from the Nuffield Foundation by convincing the board that the Tregothnan Estate was the ideal location for an English tea plantation and that the estate was committed to devoting twenty acres of land to tea production. Following this, Jones set off for China, Korea, Sri Lanka, India, Japan and other tea growing countries of the world to find out as much as possible about how tea is grown.

1999 - tea growing commences

The area chosen for growing tea was a 20 acre valley where potatoes, carrots and peas had once thrived. The first plants were cuttings and seeds imported from tea growing regions over the world.  

2005 – first commercial crop

After six years nurturing, the tea plants were ready to harvest in the spring of 2005. The first English tea pickers were Tregothnan estate workers and on May 3rd, picking began. The tea picked underwent the traditional processes of withering, rolling, oxidation and drying and the output was 50-kilos of “Single Estate” tea – England’s first ever home produced tea. Naturally, such a unique and prestigious product was sold at a premium price of £28 for 50-grams in Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly. A blended ‘Classic’ black tea version sold for a bargain £10 for 50-grams.

Tea pests

Cornwall does not have as many insects pests as Darjeeling, but it does have plenty of hungry, rabbits, deer and pheasants who appear to love the tender new tea leaf buds. However, once the bushes reach a certain size, they are usually able to survive an attack. Tregothnan is not currently registered as organic, but there are plans to do this in the future.

English tea yields

The Estate is still learning about tea production and plans a programme of tests and experimentation to determine which cultivars produce the best yield in the Cornish climate. The manufacturing methods also need developing along with product design, brand image, marketing methods and distribution.

Tregothnan long term plans

Tregothnan pland to expand its tea growing area on the steep slopes behind the house that run down to the River Fal.  It is planned that 30 acres will be given over to tea production. The short-term plan is to produce a ton of tea per year by 2010. In the long term Tregothnan plans to develop its tea production business slowly, focusing on quality and sustainability.

Tregothnan also plans to become a centre for tea education. There are plans for a tea factory tht will be open to the public so that people will be able to see how tea is actually processed and packed. It has to be said that the future looks rosy for Tregothnan as it is combining two great English passions – tea and gardening. The tea is currently on sale in 100 outlets including Fortnem and Mason.