The Women’s Tea Collective of Scotland

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Scottish tea cultivation

This engaging piece is from National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Susie Walker-Munro found herself wondering if tea cultivation could succeed in Scotland, much like it had in Cornwall, England. The concept was sparked by Cornwall’s Tregothnan Estate. While the vision was clear, implementing it in Scotland’s cooler climate and shorter growing seasons posed significant challenges.

The journey commenced in 2007 when Kinnettles Farm in Angus’ Strathmore Valley received its first tea cuttings from Cornwall. Susie’s goal was to introduce a premium crop to her farm’s repertoire. As she puts it, “This wasn’t going to be a swift venture. It’s akin to starting an apple orchard — profits aren’t expected for at least the first seven years.”

Learning to cultivate tea in Scotland wasn’t straightforward. The initial batch of plants, exposed to harsh conditions, didn’t survive. The breakthrough came with the use of polytunnels and a nutrient-rich, organic liquid fertilizer derived from comfrey, nettles, and dock leaves. According to Susie, nurturing the plants is crucial, especially since harvesting involves removing about 5% of their leaves.

This careful process eventually led to the creation of Kinnettles Gold, a bespoke tea produced solely at Susie’s farm. Debuting in 2015 via Edinburgh’s Pekoe Tea, this marked a significant milestone. Next, Susie aspired to cultivate Scottish tea from seeds, which offer a longer lifespan than cuttings. To realize this, expansion was necessary. In 2016, she connected with eight other women growers, forming the Tea Gardens of Scotland collective. These growers utilize various unique microclimates across Angus, Perthshire, Fife, and Kincardineshire, cultivating tea in historic walled gardens and farmsteads.

In the same year, Susie teamed up with tea consultant Beverley Wainwright from The Scottish Tea Factory in Comrie, Perthshire. They embarked on global expeditions to Sri Lanka, Japan, India, and Nepal, seeking seeds adaptable to Scotland’s cooler climate. The initial attempts faced setbacks, including young plants being damaged by snow-laden windbreak netting. However, perseverance eventually led to success.

The collective’s labor bore fruit with the Nine Ladies Dancing small-batch black tea, processed by The Scottish Tea Factory. This premium tea, featuring caramel, milk chocolate, and dried vine fruit notes, is now a luxury item at Fortnum & Mason, priced at £200 per 100g.

Susie fondly remembers an American buyer’s visit to the rain-drenched Tea Garden, who commented on the challenging working conditions. Her response, with a laugh, was a testament to their passion: “It might seem crazy, but the joy derived from doing what you love is immense.”

Visitors can explore three notable UK tea plantations:

  1. Tregothnan in Cornwall, a trailblazer with 150 acres of tea, offers tours and masterclasses, including the River Garden Tour for £65 and a one-day Tea School Masterclass at £145.

  2. Peterston Tea in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, began tea cultivation in 2014. It boasts a range of teas, including green and black varieties, and produces kombucha.

  3. Broich Tea Garden in Perthshire collaborates with The Scottish Tea Factory, offering various tea-centric courses and workshops.

Tea Gardens of Scotland also welcomes visitors for private tours and tastings at Kinnettles Tea Garden, priced at £45 per person for a minimum of four guests.

This article is featured in the Winter 2023 Issue 22 of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

For subscription details to National Geographic Traveller (UK), available in select countries, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Scottish tea cultivation

What inspired the start of tea cultivation in Scotland?

Susie Walker-Munro was motivated to grow tea in Scotland after learning about Cornwall’s Tregothnan Estate. She faced challenges due to Scotland’s harsh winters and short growing seasons.

How did the Tea Gardens of Scotland collective begin?

In 2016, Susie Walker-Munro reached out to other growers, forming a collective of nine female growers. This group, named Tea Gardens of Scotland, cultivates tea across various regions in Scotland.

What is unique about Kinnettles Gold tea?

Kinnettles Gold is a single-estate tea produced at Kinnettles Farm in Scotland. Launched in 2015, it is known for being carefully rolled on the farm and for its high quality.

What are some of the challenges faced in growing tea in Scotland?

The primary challenges included adapting to the short growing season, protecting plants from harsh winters, and finding suitable cultivation methods for the Scottish climate.

Where can one purchase the Nine Ladies Dancing tea?

Nine Ladies Dancing tea, known for its rich flavors, is available at Fortnum & Mason and is priced at £200 per 100g. This tea is processed by The Scottish Tea Factory.

Are there any tea-related tours available in Scotland?

Yes, the Tea Gardens of Scotland offers private tours and tastings at Kinnettles Tea Garden. Additionally, Broich Tea Garden in Perthshire offers tea-related courses and workshops.

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5 comments

TravelBugBeth December 28, 2023 - 9:24 am

Would love to visit these tea gardens, especially Kinnettles, next time I’m in Scotland. Sounds like an awesome experience!

Reply
ScottishPride December 28, 2023 - 5:54 pm

Proud of these women, making Scotland known for more than just whiskey, keep it up ladies!

Reply
TeaLover December 28, 2023 - 7:24 pm

Kinnettles Gold sounds amazing, gotta try it… £200 per 100g at Fortnum & Mason, thats pricy but maybe worth it?

Reply
Jimbo1978 December 29, 2023 - 5:25 am

wow, this is realy cool to see tea growing in Scotland, didn’t know they could do that there, climate must be tricky!

Reply
GreenThumbGerry December 29, 2023 - 8:53 am

growing tea in such harsh conditions? thats impressive, wonder how they manage the snow and cold.

Reply

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