A wee cup of tea
Quashing doubts and risking the dreich weather, Scotland’s first tea plantation is causing a stir. Kevin Pilley talks to the man creating a storm in a teacup
AM O’BRAAN spent four years living on a canoe in the Amazon, was bitten by a deadly snake in Brazil and was shot at on the Thai/burma border—all of which prepared him nicely for his current challenge: producing Scotland’s first tea. ‘Tea thrives in fairly hostile conditions. Price is determined by quality and largely determined by stress, which the Scottish weather amply provides,’ he grins.
Tea-growing over the border isn’t a new idea—during the Second World War, there were plans to plant tea in Scotland, spurred by Churchill, who believed a cup of tea to be ‘fundamental to British morale’. It may not have come into fruition then, but it certainly has now—mr O’braan’s Dalreoch White is one of the most expensive and best teas in the world, retailing at £40 per 20g tin at Fortnum & Mason. The Dorchester’s traditional afternoon tea also now includes a variety of Dalreoch teas.
With the Wee Tea Company at Dalreoch—gaelic for ‘Field of Kings’— in Perthshire going from strength to strength, Mr O’braan has planted a new
Ttea garden in Jedburgh and, in September, he planted the world’s most northerly tea estate in Orkney. His efforts have also inspired new enthusiasts—the Scottish Tea Growers’ Association, founded by Mr O’braan, has 12 members and represents the world’s youngest tea estates.
Member Angela Hurrell produces Monarda-scented Garrocher Grey, a tea that was given out at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show and is the first Scottish-grown tea to be relocated to England, now springing up on The Dorchester’s rooftop tea terrace. Fellow member the rev Liz Gibson, a minister of the Church of Scotland, offers teapicking breaks at her croft on Mull, producing Isle of Mull Matcha tea as well as Scottish Antler—‘it’s not really made from deer,’ Mr O’braan laughs. ‘Just a catchy name to keep spreading the brews.’
Antler Tea was also presented to Barack Obama as a gift from First Minister nicola Sturgeon during her 2015 visit to the USA. new grower Elma Ball at Bohall Farm in Dumfriesshire is planning to experiment with peony tea.