Brewhaha! Com­pany faces probe over claims it sold ‘fake’ Scot­tish tea

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Dawn Thompson and Ashlie McA­nally

IT was an as­ton­ish­ing claim that had tea-drinkers splut­ter­ing into their cups.

Farmer Tam O’Braan an­nounced he had es­tab­lished a tea plan­ta­tion in Perthshire – and boasted that his gourmet brew had won an award for ‘best tea in the world’.

But Mr O’Braan and his Wee Tea Plan­ta­tion com­pany are now be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Scot­land’s of­fi­cial food watch­dog over claims some of the tea was not grown in Scot­land – and did not win such a prize.

The 49-year-old caused a stir when he de­clared his Dal­re­och Es­tate smoked white tea – cost­ing £35 for 15g (half an ounce) – had been named ‘best in the world’.

He re­ceived or­ders from cus­tomers in­clud­ing Ed­in­burgh’s five-star Bal­moral ho­tel, the Dorch­ester ho­tel in Lon­don’s Mayfair and lux­ury store Fort­num & Ma­son.

At the time, the Wee Tea Plan­ta­tion founder, known in Com­pa­nies House records as plain Thomas O’Brien, said: ‘I sup­pose you could call me Mr Tea af­ter win­ning such a ma­jor award. I’m proud to say our tea is the best in the world.’

But four years on, Food Stan­dards Scot­land (FSS) is in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions that the ‘awards’ do not ex­ist, while his tea is no longer sold by the Bal­moral, the Dorch­ester or

‘Ques­tions over whether the awards ex­ist’

Fort­num & Ma­son. FSS said that ‘for le­gal rea­sons, FSS can­not dis­cuss any mat­ter that could be sub­ject to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion’.

But a well-in­formed source con­firmed that Mr O’Braan was at the cen­tre of an on­go­ing probe.

The source said: ‘There’s a ques­tion over whether it’s pos­si­ble to have pro­duced the amount of tea sold as Scot­tish from the plants grown in Scot­land.

‘FSS is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether tea has been de­scribed as Scot­tish when it is not, and whether peo­ple have been told awards were won that don’t ex­ist.’

In 2015 the tea al­legedly won Gold at the pres­ti­gious Salon de Thé awards in Paris and Mr O’Braan claimed he had pre­vi­ously re­ceived a sil­ver award from the Tea Ex­change in Lon­don, re­port­edly ‘the UK tea grad­ing body’.

But France-based in­de­pen­dent tea ex­pert Bar­bara Dufrêne, who for­merly ran the Euro­pean Tea Com­mit­tee, said: ‘Sev­eral peo­ple have asked me about this and ap­par­ently this does not ex­ist.

‘I haven’t been able to find any proof of this award and nobody has ever heard about it.. Ap­par­ently this is auto-pro­claimed.’

Jane Pet­ti­grew, who has worked in the tea in­dus­try for more than 30 years, has writ­ten 16 books and re­ceived the Bri­tish Em­pire Medal for ser­vices to tea, said there was no UK tea grad­ing au­thor­ity. She added: ‘Nobody here in this coun­try has ever found any­thing about it.’

Mr O’Braan, known as ‘Tet­ley Tam’, took over his Perthshire farm in 2011, re­port­edly prop­a­gat­ing 14,000 plants by Novem­ber 2014 from an orig­i­nal three.

A colour­ful char­ac­ter, he told in­ter­view­ers he was once bit­ten by a deadly snake in Brazil and had spent four years liv­ing in a ca­noe in the Ama­zon.

In Septem­ber 2017, the Bal­moral ho­tel an­nounced the world’s first ‘full Scot­tish tea menu’. It said: ‘Hav­ing launched the very first Scot­tish tea with The Bal­moral in 2014, The Wee Tea Plan­ta­tion owner, Tam O’Braan, has spent the last three years work­ing with other gar­den owners to pro­vide the ho­tel with a tea menu made up of Scot­tish-grown tea.’

But the ho­tel has re­cently taken this off the menu. A spokesman said: ‘The Bal­moral aims to serve the high­est qual­ity of pro­duce to our guests. We do not serve any tea from the Wee Tea Plan­ta­tion.’

Fort­num & Ma­son did not re­spond to a re­quest for comment.

Mr O’Braan helped the Dorch­ester to es­tab­lish a rooftop tea gar­den and his brew fea­tured on the af­ter­noon tea menu. But a spokesman said the gar­den was ‘no longer there’ and Dal­re­och tea was no longer served.

Mr O’Braan also founded the Scot­tish Tea Grow­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which no longer ex­ists. Tea Scot­land, a group of in­de­pen­dent grow­ers which suc­ceeded it, trans­formed its con­sti­tu­tion and sev­ered all ties with him.

Chair­man Richard Ross said: ‘We would be pleased to sup­port in­ves­ti­ga­tions into any­one sus­pected of dam­ag­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of Scot­tish-grown tea.’

Mr O’Braan could not be con­tacted at the house in Amul­ree, Perthshire, where his tea was said to have been grown.

A woman there claimed he had rented an out­build­ing from her, but had left months ear­lier.

She said: ‘I think he has gone to Ire­land.’

‘Sus­pected of dam­ag­ing rep­u­ta­tion of Scots tea’

UP­PER-CLASS CUPPA: But Bal­moral ho­tel no longer sells tea grown by Mr O’Braan, above, nor does the Dorch­ester, be­low

DOWN TO A TEA: Tam O’Braan check­ing his tea plants at the Dal­re­och Es­tate in Perthshire

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