Tregothnan Estate tea harvest 'boosted' by rain

Tea picking at Tregothnan
Image caption About 50% of Tregothnan's tea is exported abroad, with the remainder sold to the domestic market

While many farmers worry about how this spring and summer's seemingly-endless rain has affected their crops, the wet weather has been a bonus for a tea plantation in Cornwall.

The Tregothnan Estate - believed to be the only commercial tea producer in the UK - says the high rainfall level is expected to produce a bumper harvest.

In 2005 the estate harvested 200kg of tea, but by last year that had risen to 10 tonnes and hopes are high for a "substantial" increase this year.

"I can't give you the figures yet because the bushes are still growing like crazy, so we could be harvesting for months," estate manager Jonathon Jones said.

"Let's not count our chickens... but it's looking really good."

He said another 6,000 tea bushes will be planted over the next year on the 50-acre plantation.

About 50% of Tregothnan's tea is exported abroad, with the remainder sold to the domestic market.

Two countries included on the Cornish estate's customer list, perhaps surprisingly, are China and India.

They are both major tea producers, but Mr Jones believes it is the "quintessentially Britishness" of Tregothnan's tea which appeals to them.

The temperature, rainfall, humidity and soil pH at Tregothnan is similar to Darjeeling and Mr Jones was in India in April to take part in twinning discussions.

"It's a bureaucratic process, but things are moving forward and it's possible they could be formalised in about a year," he said.

"Tourism is a major factor in Cornwall and this would be a massive opportunity to promote tea tourism - after all it's our number one beverage."

'Drop in the ocean'

Tea drinkers in the UK consume about 120,000,000 "brews" a day and to meet that demand 160,000 tonnes is imported every year, according to the UK Tea Council.

Kenya and India export the majority, but the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has said frost in East Africa and a drier-than-normal monsoon in India could reduce the tea harvest in both countries.

"We only produce a drop in the ocean of what we drink here in the UK, but our crop is increasing and the rain this year has made a big difference," Mr Jones said.

"It's been so wet and although some of our other normal crops have suffered, for our tea bushes, the weather's been a dream - the best ever.

Image caption Estate manager Jonathon Jones said another 6,000 tea bushes are to be planted

"If a tea bush is planted in a position where it doesn't get waterlogged - it hates getting its feet wet - you can never have too much rain."

Bill Gorman, chairman of the UK Tea Council, said in the "extremely highly unlikely" event of tea exports from East Africa or India being reduced, Tregothnan tea would not be able to bridge the gap.

"The major tea producers have an incredible capacity to make up for any shortfall caused by the weather," he said.

"There was a world record harvest - about 4.2m tonnes in 2011 - so I doubt there will be a shortage.

"Even if there was, I'm afraid Tregothnan - much as they're doing great things down in Cornwall - could only keep the UK's tea drinkers going for about an hour."

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