Three years ago we decided to dedicate our lives to tea. After years of working in the tea industry and becoming obsessed with speciality single origin teas, we took the plunge and haven’t looked back. One of the most alluring things for me, at the beginning of our journey, was the incredible history of this humble beverage. I was awestruck to find, the significant (and often forgotten) role the Portuguese played in bringing tea to where it is today. This was what hooked me and gave me the drive to dive, head first, down the rabbit hole – With history being one of my favourite subjects at school, I devoured all the history books I had access to, and read them from cover to cover.
Tea, which is known as chá in Portuguese traces its origin back to ancient China some 5000 years ago (2535 BC). According to legend, tea was accidentally discovered by Emperor Shennong, who was a scientist of sorts. After a stroll through the gardens, he stopped to drink, at the time it was normal to boil water to get rid of impurities, in this particular instance some leaves from the surrounding wild tea bushes fell into his water. He was amazed at how refreshing and reinvigorating the derivative was. Tea was later brought to Europe by the Portuguese Jesuit missionary, Father De Cruz in 1560.
From Portugal, tea made its way through Portuguese merchants to other parts of Europe. Because of the success of the Dutch navy in the Pacific, tea became very fashionable in the Dutch capital of The Hague. The high cost of the tea had immediately made it a status symbol. Slowly, as the amount of tea imported increased, the price fell as the volume of sale expanded. By the year 1675, tea was available in most parts of Europe.
In 1662, The Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II of England and brought with her the custom of having tea, every afternoon. Although tea was already sold in England before her arrival, she merely popularized its consumption. The institution of “5 O’clock Tea” as we know today, is credited to her. Catherine took the custom with her to the English court, where poems were written about her and even a statue of her was made. She is also credited to be the first to introduce milk to black tea, as to avoid the fine china to crack due to the hot water.
There is no doubt that Portugal has contributed enormously to the development of tea since the 17th century. Portugal even possesses one of the last remaining and oldest tea plantations in Europe, established in 1883.
Growing up in Porto, my mother often made herbal teas. The herbs were mainly from our garden although sometimes we would drink green or black teas from the Azores (an archipelago of Portuguese islands, in the middle of the Atlantic).
A Case of Serendipity…
Just before our annual trip to Porto, we discovered that a rebellious Port winemaker, of Dutch descent, named Dirk Niepoort, together with his wife – Nina, were growing organic tea in the region. As this excited us, we sort to know more about him through family and friends who, by chance, were connected to him. We were able to meet for lunch and shared some tea together. The tea he and Nina produced is based on Japanese style processing methods, and the results have been of surprisingly high-quality, for a first try, with an original and complex flavour profile.
After lunch, we were offered something totally left of centre. Dirk and Nina had sourced a Red tea from Fujian province in China, which they had finished in an old Port wine barrel over 67 days. The result was incredibly delicious. The Port wine tannins along with the lightly oxidised red tea paired superbly and the consensus between everyone was that it was an incredibly successful experiment. We will definitely be purchasing some of this tea to resell in Australia. So keep an eye out!!
The serendipitous Instagram connection, or Yuanfen that led us to discover some of the most incredible teas we’ve ever experienced.
For two thousand years, the people of Guizhou have harvested the indigenous tea trees the same way - taking only what each season offers and preparing it in tune with nature.
Tea Bootcamp Part 1. Foundations
Friday October 18th we will holding our second Tea Bootcamp. This immersive educational experience is the perfect launch pad to begin your tea journey. Click for more information.