As recently discussed on this blog, there is a new(ish) tea plantation in Perthshire, Scotland. Being home to 2,000 Camellia sinensis plants, it is, apparently, one of the largest tea plantations in Europe. The interesting thing about this is that, considering that Asia (and to a lesser extend Africa) is the major tea-growing continent, there actually are a number of tea plantations in Europe. The increasing popularity of growing tea locally (local to its European consumers, that is) is certainly interesting, but is it merely a novelty?
I think that there are multiple reasons for the growing trend (pun intended) of local tea cultivation. The increasing emphasis on locally grown products is something seen across the food industry as more and more attention is paid to the environmental costs of shipping food around the globe. Additionally, supporting local businesses is attractive to many consumers. And for tea fans, the chance to try a new variety of tea and to experience how different growing locations give rise to different subtleties of taste holds obvious appeal.
But is this local tea cultivation more than a novelty, more than a passing trend? I would like to think so, as increasing the variety of tea being grown can only be a good thing—after all, it means more variety in the tea being sold, giving tea lovers more options to explore, compare, and contrast. It diversifies the market, and makes it more of a truly global industry.
But on the other hand, locally grown tea will almost certainly cost more than your standard tea imported from the tea plantations of China, India, or Kenya—it is inevitable considering the difference in the scale, and consequently cost, of tea production in these different places. In many cases, the locally grown tea will have to be blended with tea that is not local to make the venture financially viable. And if this is the case, is it really worth purchasing “locally grown” tea?
However, just like any specialty food product, if it is something you enjoy, you will probably decide that it is worth spending a little bit more on. It is unlikely that these local teas will replace the staple (cheap) teas, and so they are just one more option for a specialty tea blend—one that happens to be locally grown.
So where do I stand in regards to the local tea trend? Well, at the end of the day I am much less concerned with where the tea is grown than how it tastes; if the tea is good, I will drink it.
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