Tea that has been grown, harvested and processed in Wales is now gracing the shelves of one of the most iconic food and drink retailers in the world – Fortnum and Mason.
Only two years into production, Peterston Tea Estate in the Vale of Glamorgan has seen its tea listed by the world-renowned vendor.
Established in the 1980s by her parents as a fruit farm, Lucy took over the business in 2003 and developed the Wild Fig range of award-winning ice cream.
However, keen to take the farm in a new direction, Lucy began to research alternative crops that would better utilise the farm’s infrastructure and location.
Lucy said, “Pick Your Own fruit was no longer a viable long-term option for the business so we were looking for a new direction”
In 2013, Lucy came across the idea of growing tea.
She said, “It was a bit of random research, but I saw that tea was being grown in Cornwall and Scotland, so I thought I’d find out more. I contacted a tea consultant and asked his opinion whether tea would grow in Wales, he said it would be a struggle, but it was possible.”
Courses with the UK Tea Academy and a trip to Sri Lanka helped Lucy understand the cultivation and production processes required to make her tea a success.
When growing tea, there are two options, buying cloned cuttings or cultivating the plants from seed. Lucy has chosen to establish her crop from seed.
“Seed-grown plants have a taproot and are genetically diverse in comparison to cloned cuttings. Our first seeds came from Georgia, and we have since bought seeds in from different parts of the world in an attempt to selectively grow plants that can withstand the Welsh weather”
But Lucy’s ambition has been to produce a completely Welsh variety, and in 2019 began harvesting Peterston’s first seeds to grow into tea plants that are “Welsh born and bred.”
Seedlings spend 18 months in the nursery. It then takes a further three to five years for the plants to mature to the picking stage and take on the attributes of the local environment.
“Tea bushes are very similar to grapes in that they take on the unique attributes of the soil and climate. It is known as the ‘terroir’ (sense of place), and tea grown here will be totally different to that grown elsewhere.”
Harvesting of the 2021 crop has just begun and will last until around September – but the timings can vary from year to year because of the weather.
The result is a “single estate tea that is 100% Welsh which is picked and processed on the farm.”
Lucy explains, “We pick different three different types of tea – black, green, and a semi-oxidised oolong type. We are also starting to produce Kombucha, which is a fermented tea drink.”
From the first crop in 2019, which resulted in a few preliminary small sales, Peterston Single Estate Tea has taken off.
Its Welsh Black and Welsh Green teas both achieved two-star gold at the Great Taste Awards in 2020. The tea from the 2020 harvest is sold through a few independent outlets, including Blas ar Fwyd, and of course, Fortnum and Mason.
Lucy said, “We still grow some fruit, and we use every inch of ground we can.”
Indeed, some of the tea bushes are grown in polytunnels alongside the farm’s strawberry crop, while others are outside.
To give the bushes the best possible protection against the elements, Lucy has implemented an agroforestry system, with each area of tea enclosed with trees.
An area has been planted with fruit trees such as apples, pears, mirabelles and damsons, to provide shelter for the tea bushes and encourage biodiversity. Szechuan peppers, an unusual but productive crop, are also proving effective in helping establish a good microclimate for the tea to thrive.
“Sustainability and biodiversity are important to us, and we operate a regenerative system. We are in organic conversion and have recently added some beehives.”
Helping Lucy establish Peterston Tea Estate is Cywain – a Menter a Busnes project that supports the development of growth-orientated businesses in the food and drink sector in Wales. She has participated in the Scale-Up Challenge and received advice on social media, website development, market intelligence, and accounting.
Lucy said, “I’ve had a lot of help from Cywain. In a business such as this, you doubt yourself regularly, and the help I’ve had over the years has been a great help. They have supported me and enabled me to get my business up on its feet and create a solid base for the future.”
Cywain Development Manager, Nia Môn, said, “Lucy’s innovation, hard work, and perseverance have created a truly unique product from seed to award winning Welsh tea. I am delighted to see her venture on the shelves of one of the UK’s most prestigious food halls. The success of Peterston Tea Estate further highlights the quality and innovation of our Welsh producers.”