Cornwall tea producer plans to grow exports to China

Plucking tea leaves at Tregothnan
Image caption The wettest year on record in England has been good news for tea bushes

When Jonathon Jones received an invitation to 10 Downing Street, he decided to take his own refreshment with him.

For the estate manager from Tregothnan in Cornwall is the UK's only commercial tea producer.

Tregothnan, near Truro, has a temperature, rainfall, humidity and soil pH that is similar to Darjeeling in India, one of the world's most famous tea producing regions.

At about 10 tonnes, Cornwall's harvest is tiny compared to the world's big producers, but the quality is such that nearly 50% is exported, including to India and China.

Image caption Jonathon Jones took a selection of Tregothnan teas to Downing Street

And it was exporting tea to China that led to the Downing Street invitation as part of the government's GREAT initiative.

The campaign has been developed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to try and boost exports in the wake of the Olympics, Paralympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The three-year project is built around the themes of countryside, culture, heritage, creativity, entrepreneurs, green, innovation, knowledge, shopping, sport, music and technology.

Mr Jones said his invitation to Downing Street came out of the blue.

"I certainly wasn't expecting it. I think it was someone involved with GREAT that happened to be staying at one of the Tregothnan cottages, who tasted our tea and suggested us," he said.

Festival of Tea

"Ours is a very positive story and a lot of good business can be done over a cup of tea."

Mr Jones said he took some Tregothnan tea to Downing Street with him, but he doesn't know for sure whether the Prime Minister has had a cup yet.

Image caption Mr Jones insists opening a tea house in Shanghai is a "serious prospect"

"Mr Cameron loves Cornwall and is often down here, so I'm pretty sure he's tasted it," he said.

One of the ideas discussed at the meeting was the development of a string of Tregothnan tea houses as the British answer to the numerous worldwide coffee chains.

With a working title of Festival of Tea, Mr Jones said Shanghai in China could be one of the key markets.

He said: "The Chinese really love our British tea ceremony and our love of tea - we're second only to China when it comes to it.

"Historically we got the drink from China and yet in polls and surveys about Britishness, tea usually makes the top 10.

"I think the Chinese like how seriously we take our tea."

Early 'pluck'

While 2012 has gone down on record as the UK's second wettest since records began - and the wettest in England - the rain has been good news for the Camellia tea bushes at Tregothnan.

"It's been brilliant for us - the tea bushes love the rain," Mr Jones said.

"Provided the roots don't get waterlogged you can't get too much rain.

"I feel sorry for people who've been flooded, but for us it means the tea bushes are fully hydrated."

The added mild conditions, which make it warmer than Darjeeling, mean the leaf growth on the bushes has been pronounced.

"So much so, that we're planning to do an early harvest or 'pluck' probably beginning on Monday," he added.

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