If the tea-loving British were only able to drink tea that had been grown on their own soil, they’d be out of luck. They currently drink about fourteen pounds of tea per person per year but there is only one producer there of any significance – Tregothnan Estate, in Cornwall. While they turn out a respectable amount for a small grower who only got into the tea business about a decade ago, Tregothnan’s estimated harvest of about ten tons a year is but a miniscule drop in the bucket when stacked up against the nation’s impressive tea consumption.
After tea finally made it to Europe in the early seventeenth century, there were, not surprisingly, some attempts to grow it there. Correctly identifying the plant and getting it to Europe intact were some of the major hurdles to this process, but the English, French and Swedish were among those who gave it a try. By 1763 the French Academy of Sciences came to the (erroneous) determination that tea plants could not be grown anywhere but China. While that’s obviously not completely true it’s interesting to note that when the British tried to grow Chinese plants in India in the following century they didn’t have as much luck as they eventually would with those plants that were native to the area.
Of course, experiments with tea growing in the United Kingdom didn’t cease just because the French Academy didn’t think it could be done. In 1836, a book on trade in China and other parts of Asia recalled an experiment with tea growing that apparently took place a few years earlier. The experimenter was a Mr. Routsey, who made some attempts to plant what he referred to as “the Chinese green tea plant,” which is a bit of a misnomer.
Routsey tried growing the tea plants in the mountains of Wales at about 1,000 feet above sea level and found that they were quite hardy, enduring frosts and an entire winter with no apparent difficulty. For more on this experiment, try this post from The Old Foodie and look here for one of the original sources.
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