A Proper English Tea at Tregothnan Estate
Tregothnan is a large family owned historic Estate in Cornwall. In 2005 they were the very first establishment to successfully grow and harvest a major crop of tea in the whole of the UK. As of 2022 Tregothnan is the largest tea garden in all of Europe, with 128 acres and growing. By the end of the year they plan to have planted another 15,000 tea bushes so they will likely be the largest tea garden in the Northern Hemisphere!
We met up with one of Tregothnan's Commercial Director and tea expert, Gregory Springer, to learn more about the Estate's exceptional history and environmental credentials.
The Tea Story
Camilla trees have always been valued for their botanical curiosity, people in the UK know camellia’s for the Camellia Reticulata which is the one with the big beautiful flowers (pictured above). People grow this in their gardens; it's a plant you will often see at exhibitions such as the Chelsea flower show. Tregothnan is now the home of two of the RHS National Collections of Camellia – the Camellia Reticulata and Camellia Sasanqua.
Camellia Sinensis is part of the same family and it is the main plant used for creating tea. Knowing that the other types of Camellia can grow in Cornwall and knowing that Cornwall was identified by botanists over 100 years ago as the perfect place to grow tea. In 1999 Jonathon Jones - the then Head Gardener - started researching tea, he travelled around the World and met with tea masters from India and China and brought back samples of different varieties of tea plants to attempt to grow in the UK. There was much trial and error with this process
The gardens at Tregothnan now have about 40 different varieties of tea. Tea growing the UK is still a novelty and as the first people to do it they don’t have anyone to ask for advice and there's been a lot of trial and error. After two decades of growing tea at Tregothnan they're no longer using tea plant samples from other parts of the world. A lot of the tea that Tregothnan are propagating and growing each year is a new type that's completely unique to Cornwall.
"We have a nursery site where all the plants are taken from cuttings or seeds. When you take from a cutting its called clonal propagation. We’ve also got different varieties of tea plant in the same field that have cross pollinated. This gives us a hybrid that is completely unique to Tregothnan and in turn it is better suited to our climate and they grow really well." - Greg
Tregothnan's History and the Boscawen Family
Tregothnan has an unrifled history in the county of Cornwall, it's been in the Boscawen family, since 1334. The Boscawen family has single lineage which can be traced back further than even the British Royal Family, in addition to this the Tregothnan House has been owned by the Boscawen's for the duration of this 700- 800 year period. Approximately 26% of Cornwall is owned by the Tregothnan Estate, the Boscawen Family know this is a great responsibility and see it as their duty to do their part for environmental conservation. Everything Lord and Lady Falmouth, the family and staff do for the estate is all for long term benefit and impact to the county. The Estate plants hundreds of acres of trees every year because they have the land and feel it is their obligation to do so. One of the reasons for growing the tea is that it helped bring an income to the estate to help pay for some of these activities but it's also something that could be done to help its own ecological virtues.
It is a long term commitment to grow tea, you can spend 10 years preparing the land and plants before you see any commercial return, therefore very few people in the country who can afford to invest in the tea growing industry. However, once you have a tea business that's flourishing and successful those tea plants should live for about 400-500 years! This has a huge positive impact on the environment because it means the potential of having up to 500 years of carbon sequestration and soil stabilisation. It also provides a habitat for pollinators and carnivorous insects right through to large mammals like rabbits, birds, deer and even beavers. So it all has a positive impact on the environment which is really important to the Boscawen family.
When you purchase Tregothnan tea you're not just buying tea, you're also supporting the environment. Tregothnan tea is packaged in plastic free teabags or they offer loose tea.
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Going back to the authenticity of the tea, it's a little known fact that the Boscawen family have a direct link to Charles Grey, of the famous Earl Grey tea. So when Tregothnan make Earl Grey they really mean it! It's a genuine blend of the famous back tea made to the true recipe with bergamot oil.
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Environment and Sustainability
Tregothnan are committed to being as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. When they measured their carbon footprint and knew that we can produce 250,000 teabags a year before we have a positive carbon footprint. Up until that point they have a negative impact because their energy comes from solar panels and because they grow so much tea.
"For the majority of that carbon footprint we have taken into account our customers boiling their kettle at home. The grounds itself has very minimal impact. If you want to have the most environmentally friendly cup of tea the best thing you can do is just boil the amount of water you need instead of filling an entire kettle."
Tregothnan are working on completely eradicating plastic from their products. Their tea bags are plastic free and the vast majority of our packaging is made from card that is from a recycled source and fully recyclable. Some packaging is made from foils which are a bio material laminate and it is technically it is recyclable. however they are looking to remove that and switch to impregnated paper so you still have all the product security, freshness and long shelf life and this material also allows it to be fully compostable at home.