English tea plantation bags bumper crop in heatwave to rival Kenya and India
The recent heatwave has seen England’s only tea plantation grow a bumper crop that matches yields from the finest bushes in India and Kenya.
Tregothnan tea garden in Cornwall prides itself on being the first in hundreds of years to grow tea leaves on home soil.
The soaring temperatures over the past weeks have coincided with a flush of leaves on the tea bushes to create record volumes of tea per bush.
Tregothnan has recorded temperatures hotter than India and Kenya and the rain forecast is perfectly timed to promote even more growth, with 300mm shoots of tea expected this month.
Jonathon Jones, Tregothnan’s managing director, said: “The growth is just phenomenal. In India and Kenya you might get two tonnes per hectare but we are probably going to exceed that massively.
“It’s due to a combination of high temperatures and the ground being already wet. The roots were well watered before the high temperatures came along.”
Jones said the bumper growing conditions meant the tea would take on a “strong Assam tea flavour — much less like a Darjeeling, which is what we normally do”.
“It has very strong ‘gutty’ flavours, that is what the tea boys call it,” he said.
The change in flavour could become a more regular occurrence if the intense periods of wet weather and heat continue in the coming years.
A Met Office report has warned that meteorological changes are increasingly affecting the natural world, with “first leaf” dates last year recorded an average of 10.4 days earlier than the 1999 to 2019 baseline for a range of trees and shrubs.
Leaves are also falling earlier: the end-of-season “bare tree” dates for 2020 were 4.3 days earlier than the baseline, the report said.
The microclimate at Tregothnan was first noted in the 19th century as being suitable for tea but it was only developed commercially at the site from camellia sinensis, the “Chinese tea plant”, in 2001. The first “English tea” was then sold in November 2005 to Fortnum & Mason.
Thousands of tea bushes are sold from the nursery every year to home gardeners. Small quantities of tea can be produced in most gardens in the UK.
However, Jones said the unique combination of a warm body of seawater seven miles inland, perfect soil, slopes, and rainfall, are not equalled anywhere else in Europe.
The Tregothnan estate is owned by Lord and Lady Falmouth and has been in their family since 1334. Jones began working there as head gardener aged 26 and when Lady Falmouth handed over the reins to her son Evelyn, he sent Jones all over the world looking for specific trees and plants.
True tea can only come from the camellia bush and they can take five years to reach maturity. Only about half ever make it to the full five years, but once they are fully established they can last for more than 400 years.
Tregothnan is now the largest tea garden in Europe and is open to visitors by appointment. However, earlier this year it raised some concerns about an uninvited guest, when staff photographed one of England’s only wild beavers wandering near the tea bushes.