Azorean tea and its origin, Azores, Portugal

Did you know that until recently, the Azorean tea was the only truly European tea? Tea grows in the Azores, islands since the 19th century. Learn about it.

Well, maybe you didn’t know that tea is also produced in the Azores, but now you do.

The Azores no longer has the exclusivity of tea production in Europe. A tea plantation can also be found in Portugal’s mainland.

Even so, I am going to tell you that China, because of old trade relations with Portugal, is doubly involved in the reason why tea started to be produced in the Azores.

Relax, this has nothing to do with modern world politics matters.

Chinese oranges – the first reason why China is is doubly involved in the tea plantation in the Azores.

In the 16th century, when the Portuguese sailed around the world, they traded with various cultures in the countries they contacted. China and other Asian countries were good examples.

There are very curious cases of products brought by Portuguese to Asian countries of these relations.

The Portuguese Navigators discovered Brasil in 1500, and from there, they brought chili. Then they took it to Asia on their many journeys.

Nowadays, chili is the dominant flavor of many Asian Kebabs and also of the most well-known chili-based sauce in the world, curry.

Curry is generally identified as having its origin in India. But this sauce – Kuri in Hindi means sauce – could not have appeared without the Portuguese.

Also, it was through the Portuguese that Europe started to drink tea.
Following the marriage between Portuguese Catarina de Bragança and the English King Charles II, in the 17th century, the queen consort took with her the habit of drinking tea in the middle of the afternoon. From there, the habit spread throughout Europe.

During the relations with southern China, during the 16th century, the Portuguese gave them products that did not exist there, such as sweet potatoes, green beans, and lettuce.

Among a long list of products the Portuguese brought from China came the orange.

It is in the Algarve, the southern region of Portugal, where the oranges best adapted. Some say that it is in the Algarve where the best European oranges can be found.

It was still in the 16th century that oranges were taken to the Azores.
There, they also found a very favorable soil and climate, becoming one among the agricultural products with the highest yield in the archipelago.
From the Azores, oranges began to be exported to many destinations, England being the preferred market due to its strong, long-lasting commercial relations with Portugal.

In 1834, two lemon trees were taken to the island of Faial.
It was not known that these lemon trees carried Coccus Cochonilha, a pest that would decimate the production of Azorean oranges.

And, as if the said plague was not sufficient evil, also, the orange groves contracted a disease known as “the tear,” causing premature fall of oranges from the trees.

The economic impact was brutal, and it was urgent to find new possible crops for the Azores, to replace the devastating loss of income associated with the end of orange production.

It is in the context, new cultures were introduced in the Azores, primarily in some nurseries on the island of São Miguel.

Thus tea, pineapple, tobacco, and other less relevant crops appear as part of Azorian productions.

Although tea plants found the perfect soil and climate to thrive, no one in the archipelago knew the method of producing tea for drinking.

Here I need to pause just to say something that I do not think is generally known.

The tea drink is made from a specific type of Camellia, Camellia Sinensis, and only from this plant can we have tea. All the other beverages that we commonly call tea, such as chamomile, are actually infusions.

Having the plant but not the method of preparing it to drink was a significant problem.

There is no general consensus on who and when the tea plant was introduced in the Azores. What is known is that the plant appeared before knowing how to prepare it to drink.

None the less, it seems to be well known when and what was done to acquire and spread the needed knowledge among the farmers.

One of the most prominent Azorean figureheads of the last quarter of the 18th century will play a fundamental role in the recovery from the depression caused by the loss of orange culture. José do Canto.

Tea maker experts from China – the second reason why China is is doubly involved in the tea plantation in the Azores.

José do Canto, was a great Azorean landowner and intellectual, extraordinarily dynamic and with immense dedication to his native land, the Azores.

Through the Sociedade Promotora da Agricultura Micaelense, José do Canto, obtains means and contacts for hiring Chinese tea maker experts who would introduce the knowledge of cultivation and production of tea in the Azores.

Thus, on March 5, 1878, the master Lau-a-Pau and his assistant Lau-a-Teng arrived on the island of São Miguel.

In the year and a half that they were in São Miguel, it was possible to train a substantial number of farmers who joined the new tea plantation momentum.

But the impact these men had on the island was not limited to agriculture. Whenever they went out on the streets, they had the Azoreans fascinated.

We need to remember that São Miguel island, at that time, was a very isolated community in the middle of the Atlantic, and these Chinese were perhaps the first Asians that most of the population had seen in their entire lives.

But this fascination was reciprocal. It was not only from the Azoreans but also these Chinese men were curious about everything around them.

These Oriental technicians were simple people who were now in a totally different environment from the one they were used to.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were five major tea producers in the Azores and around forty small producers.

Today only two companies remain Gorreana and Porto Formoso, both on the island of São Miguel.

The visit to these factories is a mandatory stop on a trip to this island.
We can visit the plantation and the production of the different types of tea produced there.

The original production must have been very well assembled from the beginning because even today, we can see the original machinery.
Perhaps due to the factory’s vintage look or because of the pungent tea aroma ambiance, I find this visit fascinating.

It is said that olfactory memories are the ones that last the longest.

What was left to say?

In the course of this article, and until the end, I purposely left some open doors for further development:

    • How did tea spread throughout Europe?
    • Why in Portuguese do we have such a different word for tea such as “chá”?
    • If oranges originally entered Europe through Portugal, why are the English sour orange marmalade so known?
    • What kinds of tea are made in the Azores?
    • Are there other tea plantations in Portugal?

For now, I will leave these questions pending for future answers.

I hope you had fun with this article.

Carpe diem
David Monteiro

Tea plantation, Azores, Portugal
Tea harvest, Azores, Portugal
Tea production, Azores, Portugal
Tea plant Camellia sinensis, Azores, Portugal
One of the two tea factories, Azores, Portugal
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