The tidy rows of chá bushes that stripe the rolling, emerald hillsides almost seem out of place. Chá, the Portuguese word for tea, is certainly not something you’d expect to see growing on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the fifty-or-so hectares at the Chá Gorreana tea plantation (Plantações de Chá Gorreana) are the only place in all of Europe where tea is cultivated. The estate is located on the north shore of São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores archipelago. Although geographically not part of Europe, the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal, roughly nine-hundred miles west of the mainland. At the Chá Gorreana estate, they’ve been growing and producing tea through organic methods for five generations, ever since Ermelinda Gago da Camara and her son Jose-Honrorato opened the factory back in 1883. Nowadays, the plantation produces roughly 40 tons of the acclaimed tea annually, most of which is shipped to mainland Europe.
Tea was first brought to the Azores back in 1878, by two Chinese horticulturists from the former Portuguese colony of Macau. The islands’ mild climate and regular rainfall proved perfect for the growing of tea. Part of what makes Gorreana tea so special is that it is grown in fresh air, hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away from big cities, without the use of pesticides or herbicides, and in rich volcanic soil.
Three types of black tea—Pekoe, Orange Pekoe and Broken Leaf—as well as Hysson, a variety of chá verde (green tea) are produced at the plantation. On the free tour, I learned that the variety of tea is determined from where on the bush the leaves are picked. Orange pekoe, the most delicately flavored of the three, comes from the bud and first shoot; pekoe, a milder variety, is from the second leaf; and Broken Leaf, the least aromatic of the three, is made from fragments of the remaining leaves. The tea at Chá Gorreana is harvested and packed following the original methods, with little changing in the last 128 years. The leaves are hand picked and then sorted by local women sitting at large wooden tables in the factory. The leaves are then dried in trays stored in the attic, wilted, fermented and then dried again. This process creates black tea; green tea is produced from the same leaves, but they’re steamed early in the process to stop their fermentation.
The highlight of the tour is a visit to the estate’s tearoom. There, you’re offered complimentary cups of hot tea and can sample each of the different varieties for yourself. You certainly won’t find a fresher cup of tea anywhere else in Europe! There’s a small gift shop where you can purchase packages of the tea, which make for great souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home.
|Where: Chá Gorreana Tea Plantation (Plantações de Chá Gorreana), Gorreana – 9625 Maia, São Miguel, Azores tel/fax: 296 442 349|
|When: Open daily from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.|
|For more info: Visit their website at gorreana.com|