Centuries after it became the defining beverage of England, the tea plant has finally taken root in the green fields of this island nation.
And it has taken a British lord to do it.
On the southwestern tip of England lies the Tregothnan Estate, home of the 9th Viscount Falmouth, whose family, the Boscawens, have lived there since 1300.
For more than 200 years, the estate has grown camellias — the first in England — and is now marketing Britain’s first commercial crop of Camellia Sinensis (the botanical term for the tea plant).
“You can grow tea elsewhere but not like we have,” said Lord Falmouth’s son the Honourable Evelyn Boscawen, who manages the family’s huge estate near Truro in the county of Cornwall.
In part, that is because the estate is situated in the warmest part of the country, with temperate breezes coming off the Gulf Stream. Most teas are grown in Asia, particularly India, Sri Lanka and China.
In marked contrast to your average bag of Lipton, though, Tregothnan tea costs a pretty penny — about $40 for 125 grams (about half a pound).
Its price is a reflection a relatively small crop and of the care that has gone into the production of each leaf, according to the head gardener at Tregothnan, Jonathon Jones. The project was first started in 1999 and the first products are only now coming onto the market.
As a showcase for its product, the estate plans an international tea center, where tastings will be available and tea plants on display.
“Interest in tea is phenomenal,” said Jones, noting that the Tregothnan brew, which has a taste comparable to India’s noted Darjeeling, is now on sale at London’s Fortnum & Mason, grocers to the Prince of Wales.
The 175 million cups of tea drunk in Britain every day will never be sourced exclusively from Cornwall, but Tregothnan may be setting a precedent similar to that of British vintners, who are finally producing wine that receives accolades formerly reserved primarily for French and Italian produce.
Who knows, soon the British may be waking up to a cup of Wiltshire or Devon, rather than Assam or Darjeeling.