Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Scottish Grown Tea and Mystery Lasses

This all started with a forum topic. Tea Trade’s resident Smiling Frenchman – Xavier (of the Teaconomics blog) – had posted a discussion starter. It was aptly titled: “The First Scottish Tea is White and Smoky

That immediately held my attention. In the discussion, Xavier posted a link to an article about a new outfit dubbed The Wee Tea Company, who had set up their own tea garden. In Scotland! Not only that, but they had also brokered an exclusive deal with the British high-end store – Fortnum & Mason. The asking price? £35 for 15g. That’s, like, $53 in ‘Merican money.

To their credit, though, the two teas they were producing were quite special. One was a regular white tea, while the other was a smoked white tea. Yes, smoked! Like a Lapsang Souchong, but instead of using pinewood, they used beech trees.

The garden itself was called the Dalreoch Tea Estate (aka. The Wee Tea Plantation).

Banner mooched from The Wee Tea Plantation Facebook page

Banner mooched from The Wee Tea Plantation Facebook page

“Dalreoch” loosely translated to “the field of the King” in Scots-Gaelic. Said garden was nestled in the Strathbraan valley at the foot of the Scottish Highlands, just outside of the small town of Amulree in Perth & Kinross County. The garden was originally a test plot purchased by one Tam O’Braan geared toward the development of degradable polymers for agricultural use. Later, however, he teamed up with Derek Walker and Jamie Russell of The Wee Tea Company (based in Fife) to start a tea garden.

Image mooched from The Wee Tea Plantation Facebook page.

Image mooched from The Wee Tea Plantation Facebook page.

They broke ground in 2012 with roughly 2,000 tea plants to start. While Scottish weather was temperamental at best, the lads developed clever ways to help the plants thrive. The aforementioned polymers helped the soil retain moisture, and kept pests from feeding on the young plants. As the tea bushes matured, they were then covered in UV-protective plastic tubes to restrict photosynthesis. During the harsher winter months, the plants were fully covered to prevent die-off. In 2014 – just a little over two years – they plucked their first leaves, for the first ever Scottish white tea.

Scottish white tea

The question wasn’t whether or not I wanted it, but how I could bloody well get a hold of it. Neither The Wee Tea Company or Fortnum & Mason delivered to the U.S. I wasn’t worried about the money, per se. I would’ve sold a kidney to scrounge up the cash, if I had to.

I did the only thing I could do. I played the ol’ “tea blogger” card and hoped for the best. That . . . went about as well as expected.

scottish mafia

After all, I was small-time compared to all the other outlets that were covering the garden – STiR Tea & Coffee, The Daily Mail. Hell, even The BBC.

My only answer was to utilize some of my (albeit few) UK contacts and see if they could make the purchase on my behalf. In the interim, I counted pennies. Unfortunately, that was taking far longer to do than I thought. My kidney was dreading my eventual decision.

A savior appeared in the most unlikely of places. For about eight years, now, I had a penpal. We’ll call her “Mistress G”. She was a tea drinker, but not one of my regular tea contacts. I’d never met her in person. Mistress G just happened to be residing in the U.K. In a passing conversation, I told her about my interest in the Dalreoch smoked white tea.

She said, “Oh, I can get that for you.”

I replied with, “There’s no way I can pay you back for that.”

She countered with, “Don’t worry about it, consider it a gift.”

I had my very own mysterious, tea-swigging, philanthropic Carmen Sandiego.

carmen sandiego iced tea

The package arrived in record time, a week later. In it, she also included a tin of chocolate pearl cookies, handmade Earl Grey shortbread from Edinburgh, and a tea napkin! All from Fortnum & Mason. My eyes glazed over.

gift

After making short work of the Earl Grey shortbread, I bee-lined to the tea tins.

side by side

Scottish White on the left; Smoked Scottish White on the right.

 

The regular Scottish white tea had beautiful young, whole leaves and stems with a bouquet of colors ranging from green to brown. The aroma they gave off was straight forest and mint, with a dash of earth. It reminded me of a Yunnan-grown Moonlight white. Yue Guang Bai was a very burly, salt-of-the-earth sorta white on first impression; so was this.

The smoked white was a different beast entirely. On appearance, the leaves and stems had a smaller cut, almost broken pekoe-ish appearance. It was more in line with a Bai Mu Dan, visually. As for the aroma . . . oh my, “Yum.” Smoked teas tend to have an alternating hickory, campfiery and peaty scent to them. This had that but with a slight fruity tang on the back-end. Like someone lit a caramel-dipped apple on fire.

Given the smaller leaf pieces and the scent, I could almost imagine how the conversation between the innovators went.

Brilliant!

And then they punched each other in the face for solidarity.

For brewing, I went with a typical white tea approach – roughly 175F water and a three-minute steep for each. 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves in a 6oz. steeper cup.

Scottish White Tea

white tea

The regular white tea brewed to a vibrant yellow liquor with an aroma of berries, apples and spring leaves. This impression also echoed in the taste, which possessed a medium-bodied, creamy and fruit-sweet mouthfeel. It ended on a smooth, almost velvety finish with a lingering aftertaste of wilderness.

Scottish Smoked White Tea

smoked white tea

The smoked white brewed considerably darker, approaching Darjeeling amber in color. As for scent, well, it should be obvious. Straight peat moss and burnt wood wafted from the cup, but it was far more muted than I thought it would be. Not a negative thing at all, but a thankful subtlety that I wasn’t expecting. On taste, I was first greeted by whiskey, which then opened the door for chopped firewood, and courteously escorted an herbaceous finish.

I honestly can’t pick a favorite. White teas were the first loose leaf type I appreciated when my exploration was still in its infancy. Smoked teas appealed to my visceral, inner almost-manchild. On the one hand, I always appreciated the delicate and fruity aspects of tea. On the other, I liked to be hit in the face with blunt, burning trauma to my palate. I can’t decide, but what I can say is that this fledgling garden is off to a fantastic start.

brewed side by side

Would I pay $50-plus for their offerings? No. Of course, I’m probably saying that because I’m poor. For the moment, the price is slightly justified – both for the novelty and the rarity. Given that they’re only working with 2,000 plants – young ones, at that – they can easily ask for a higher price point for their yield. My hope is that when the operation expands, and more plants are introduced, that the price evens out a bit. With gardens in Northern Ireland, France, Switzerland and Italy going in, competition is bound to be fierce.

But they’re used to competition, aren’t they?

Rock tosser

Photo by Gene Rodman. “Model”: Gary Robson.

 

I’m just grateful this landed in my lap the way it did. And I can’t thank my mysterious benefactor enough. My diluted Scottish ancestry salutes ye, Mistress G.

UPDATE: I was just informed by one of the growers that they are now delivering globally. The last remaining stock can be purchased HERE.

lazyliteratus

Tea blogger, professional cleaner of toilets, amateur people watcher.

Latest posts by lazyliteratus (see all)

Previous

Fujian Face-Off! Lapsang Souchong Vs. Jin Jun Mei

Next

A Swift, Southern Caffeinated Kick in the Teeth

20 Comments

  1. Thanks for trying them and answering my question: are they worth drinking.

  2. Mistress G to the rescue! What a wonderful package she sent. The price seems pretty steep to me, but I’m not a well versed tea drinker by any means. I love that you were able to get your hands on this!

    • It is quite steep. No doubt about it. I hope that gets more reasonable as they enlarge the garden, but – as it stands – I can see why they’re selling it as a luxury commodity.

  3. Our apologies that you have had to employ your own ‘agent’ to seek out our tea. The level of interest in our work was a real surprise and we had not anticipated overseas interest to that extent. We have now fixed it so that global delivery is possible from; http://weeteacompany.com/index.php/scottish-tea.html

    However your agent seems so intriguing you may not want to tell her that we’ve fixed that side of things?

    Vis a vis the illustration of the thinking behind the smoked leaf? Hmmm, well it’s the same grade as the White and our Smoking Master is Billy McLean- a man of some 30 years local experience as we aren’t t all in having a salmon river on the farm and this delicious local heritage is within his skill set. He does claim that he doesn’t look like your illustration and wanted me to put the record straight;

    We had challenged him to produce the lightest flavour of smoke and in our morning tasting sessions all involved we drinking Lapsang to try to build up a more informed opinion. Bill informed us that Apple Wood was the lightest flavour we could try, but the environmental arguement didn’t work for the team. So Beech is the next outside of fruit trees and we went ahead with that on a cold smoking basis- so nothing to do with the drying of the tea.

    After the first batch (and small but memorable fire) we tasted as you did; a sweetness within the middle of the palate that we wanted to keep. We grow the beech, so as a sustainability matter is seems perfect.

    If you’re looking to ‘mix it up’ I am informed that at Balmoral they have included serving it with a squeeze of lemon in it or rubbing a lime over the lip of the cup. Personally I find it reminiscent of the flavours in a 12 year old scotch, but with three neighbouring distrilleries within a 14 mile radius, that may be expected.

    Please keep in touch as we’ve helped other tea growers to start here in Scotland and we can let you know of future developments as and when there’s something knew for you to critique.

    Thanks again. Tam

    • Tam – I have made the correction to the article regarding global distribution. At the time when I was seeking the tea out (and concocting this mad tale), distribution was still limited to the isle, Germany and the Netherlands. So glad that it is now more readily accessible.

      I do apologize for the lower-grade leaf hypothesis. That was just what I assumed given the smaller leaf cut for the Smoked White. But I’m keeping the joke because it made me giggle. That said, I’m happy with the results.

      And, yes, do keep me apprised of developments wit other growers. That sorta thing is my blogging bread-‘n-butter.

      • No worries at all about the smoked hypothesis- it made nearly all of us laugh.

        We will try to keep you up to date but if you want an advanced notification Garrocher Tea Garden are only two years behind us, if that. Angela’s a seasoned Market Gardener and one of four who have already planted and we’re helping to grow. A further five will be going in in the course of this year- all modest in size so as not to run before we can walk.

        We’re taking her second flush on Friday and I’ll try to get you some photos (with the owner’s permission). Her Garrocher Grey is truly unique but not yet in any type of commercial quantity.

        • Consider yourself lucky, Taam. The last time he reviewed one of our teas, the review took the form of an an adventure involving The ghost of Robert Fortune, the Iron Goddess of mercy, a Regency Lord and some tigers.

    • When you think ‘Scottish’ and ‘smoke,’ you obviously think ‘peat.’ Would peat overwhelm the flavour of tea? Was it considered?

  4. Margo Hutchinson

    I really liked the taste of that tea! It is a subtle aroma that was very delightful! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love how your connections are spanning the globe. And what a good package to get in the mail! I’m very impressed by “Carmen’s” speediness and kind gift.

  6. The Scots conversation is entirely believable.

  7. Bea

    How wonderful of your friend to send you the prized tea.

    Who would have thought the tea is also grown in Scotland and it sounds like it is very lovely as well. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I can’t afford that either, but I’m so glad you got to try it! What a wonderful gift.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar