Tea Making in Scotland
Beverly Wainwright runs the Scottish Tea Factory which is situated between Comrie and Crieff in the beautiful county of Perthshire, Scotland. I had the immense pleasure of joining her on a delightful sunny morning in September to start a 2-day, one to one course of picking and making tea!
I have visited many tea factories and gardens around the world, seen tea grown and made in many different ways, plucked tea and tasted tea but never had the experience from start to finish of making and then finally drinking my very own tea.
After an interesting exploration of black tea making and how important the different stages of production are in determining the chemical changes within the leaf, and thereby developing and altering the aroma and taste of the final tea, we set to picking tea. The factory is encircled with tea bushes that Beverly has nurtured over the last 4 years and we carefully selected just the bud and 2 leaves.
Beverly demonstrated, with a quick twist of the hand, how to pluck but I am afraid to say I lagged behind her in speed. Beverly has grown tea in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and America. She is a tea consultant helping set up tea factories producing exquisite artisanal teas, so she did have the advantage!
After an hour, we had managed to fill two baskets with the princely sum of 760g! Really adept pluckers can pluck with both hands and work much faster but, even so, this illustrates how incredibly labour-intensive plucking tea by hand is.
We then awaited tea to arrive from other growers in Scotland as Beverly was making theirs at the same time, although mine was very carefully kept separate throughout the whole process.
Once all the tea had arrived, the bright green leaves were then piled onto large wire trays to wither overnight, ready for the next stage in the morning.
After 16 hours of withering overnight, we weighed the leaves to determine how much moisture had been lost. And it was deemed as a soft wither, which means approximately 58% of the moisture from the leaf had been lost. Then the hard bit began... I was going to roll by hand! Nearly all tea is now mechanically rolled. This is not just because it's less labour intensive, but if the mechanical rolling is done with care, more flavours can be developed in the tea by thoroughly breaking the leaf cells. I rolled the tea on a special board with large wire ridges across it. Back and forth, back and forth for 1 hour and 50 minutes, every part of the process being carefully logged. I was trying to develop what could be described as a creamy froth.
In the meantime Beverly used a small mechanical roller on the leaf that had arrived from other growers, applying more pressure in stages so as to achieve the correct flavour. Needless to say, the little roller out did me...it achieved the creamy froth, I did not!
The tea was then oxidised in a piece of equipment which is very familiar to me ... a bread prover.
After 2 hours and 20 minutes of carefully monitoring and squirting with water to retain a good humidity, the now browning leaves were carefully piled into circular wire baskets ready to be dried. The small ovens are specifically for tea and the little baskets revolve ensuring an even drying process.
After 2 hours and much checking, smelling and the position of the trays being moved the tea was deemed ready and taken out to cool.
The final stage was to check the water content in the tea to make sure it had been dried correctly.
Twenty four hours later, the tea was made!
The tea is a dark wiry leaf with a delicious juicy smell and rich taste. I feel if my rolling had been more professional (apparently it can take ages to learn the skill and some people never even achieve it), the tea would have had more complexity. But, never-the-less, I am rather pleased with it. It shall only be supped on high days and holidays as the 740g of fresh leaf has only produced 161g of tea - a quite normal ratio of initial fresh leaf to the finished article.
In our modern, hurried world of supermarket shelves, we so sadly forget the skill it takes to make good food and drinks ... we are too far distanced from its production that we do not value it or appreciate it to the detriment of our health and the planet.
If I had to share one thing from this amazing course, it is how connected you have to be, not only with nurturing and understanding the tea plant, but also instinctively understanding the minute changes in smell and feel and sight to produce a fabulous tea.
When you next brew a pot of artisanal loose leaf tea, please stop a minute and raise your cup to all those people who have been involved in the journey of producing that delicious, comforting beverage for you. Happy sipping!
I would like to say a huge thank you to Beverly, not only for her time and patience but her generosity in sharing her knowledge and expertise. I had the most marvellous 2 days at the Scottish Tea Factory and learnt so much.
Thank you, Beverly, I cannot wait to make more tea with you!