Friday, July 16, 2010

Tea Around the World – Portugal

By Jess Hodges

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to encounter tea, to import it and to produce it, making them the pioneers of a trade that would come to shape the world and a tradition that would come to be central to the lives of many.

The Portuguese navy was one of the finest of the times, making them an important international player. They were instrumental in creating the first trading routes with Japan and China in the fifteen hundreds and they were granted the rights to establish a trading port at Macao as a reward for riding the area of pirates. The Portuguese Jesuit missionary Father Jasper de Cruz was the first known European to try tea in 1560 and wrote about the experience in a letter home.

Despite this documented knowledge of the drink, tea wasn't imported into Europe until the early seventeenth century. A trade route was developed, with Portugese ships bringing tea into Lisbon and the Dutch then distributing it to other European countries.

In the 1660s the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza was married to King Charles II of England and brought with her to her new country the practice of drinking tea. The British had not been as successful as other countries in establishing trade routes with Japan and China and though they would later come to dominate the tea trade they were at the time reliant on Portuguese and Dutch imports.

Where Portugal really stands out from the rest of Europe in it's relationship to tea is it's attempts to grow it commercially. In 1750 trial fields were set up in several different locations to test the viability of tea as a crop. The fields initially produced a grand total of 18kg of tea. In 1883 two skilled workers were brought from China to give advice and the enterprise was made more successful. Portuguese tea growing currently takes place in the Azores and the tea it produces is called Gorreana. It is produced organically by small scale independent farmers using a highly traditional process.

Tea, particularly iced tea, is of increasing popularity in Portugal with the whole nation enjoying a good brew. Given their crucial role in bringing it to the rest of the world they've certainly earned it.