From Lagom #6

Gorreana, The Azores

Of the things you could expect to find on a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic, a tea plantation would probably be among the last on your list. We find out what makes The Azores a prime location for producing one of the world’s best-loved beverages.

Words Pedro Arruda

Photographs Filipe Farinha

In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean lies the island of São Miguel, the biggest in the nine-island archipelago of The Azores. This staggeringly beautiful volcanic island boasts lush green hillside, and a brilliant blue lagoon in the crater of its dormant volcano. But it’s not its breathtaking lagoon or dramatic sea views that are the island’s best kept secret — looking out across the Atlantic from the rolling emerald hills at the north of the island lie 13 hectares of terraced tea fields. It’s a scene you’d expect to see thousands of miles away in India or the Far East, yet this island is an unexpected location for high quality organic tea, with a history going back over 130 years.

Family-run Gorreana Tea is the company that transformed the landscape of this part of the island. Walking down the hill to the plantation, and letting the perfectly aligned parallel lines of Camellia sinensis (the Latin name for the tea plant) lead your gaze to the ocean in the distance, you get the impression that this is one of the most perfect places in the world for growing tea.

We met Madalena Motta, the current owner of the estate, for a cup of Gorreana’s orange pekoe tea. The estate has been in Madalena’s family for as long as The Azores have been inhabited (1427 is considered by academics as the year of its discovery by Portuguese sailors). She tells me that the first tea plants were planted by her great-great-grandfather in the mid- to late 19th century as an experiment by landowners of the time. Their goal was to substitute the orange crops, which had been the main economic pillar of the island, but had been decimated by disease. They even brought in a Chinese specialist to teach them how to grow, harvest, and dry the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, and they soon discovered that the mix of rich volcanic soil and the tempered climate of the island were, in fact, ideal conditions to grow and produce tea. The Azores were therefore the perfect location for producing the best tea the Atlantic had to offer, and Madalena’s family have been doing it ever since.

The Gorreana tea factory was built in 1883, when the company itself was founded, and it has continued to produce several different types of tea, made using a combination of Chinese methods, and British-made machinery from 1840. 

In no small part, the local community, over generations, have also continued to contribute their hard work and ingenuity to Gorreana. Indeed, they have embraced the plantation and made tea a fundamental part of their lives, culture, and wellbeing.

Currently Gorreana produces and sells several varieties of green, black, and other scented teas to a total of 33 tonnes per year, all of which is completely organic. Absolutely no chemicals are used in any step of the process. Crucially, it all comes down to the island’s situation in the ocean. It turns out that the climate of The Azores is as good for the growing of the tea plant as it is deadly for mosquitoes, tea flies, and other kinds of pests and plagues that force industrial tea plantations in other parts of the world to spray them regularly with heavy doses of pesticides. It is, quite literally, a haven for tea.

Looking back, perhaps that’s what really sets this tea apart: there’s something of the ocean in the tea — that ever so faint taste of sea salt — that gives you the impression of the waves that engulf this intriguing land. You can taste the unique identity of this tea in each cup: flavours that tell a story of dramatic geological movements; of volcanoes and rain storms; of verdant, undulating landscapes; and of the ocean. 

Visit Gorreana at Plantações de Chá Gorreana, Gorreana, 9625 – 304 Maia, São Miguel, Açores, or online.

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