Last year I met Oscar, the MD of Suki Tea in Belfast, over a cuppa he explained his product and his vision, to grow tea in Northern Ireland. Oscar, I applaud you.
Suki Tea, the Northern Irish boutique blender, is planning to grow its own tea in Northern Ireland. The gourmet tea company, based in Belfast and with sales throughout the UK, Ireland, and other parts of Europe as well as to Japan and Africa, has placed an initial order for 2,000 tea plants with a leading grower in Tanzania and plans to grow them on land at Portaferry in County Down.
Oscar Woolley, Suki Tea’s managing director, who founded the company in 2005 with business partner Anne Rooney, says Portaferry had been chosen as the preferred site because of its virtually frost-free climate.
“We believe that Portaferry could be an ideal location for growing tea because there’s a micro-climate there, a sheltered environment that’s moderated by nearby Strangford Lough, the largest natural inlet in the British Isles.
“Our decision to push ahead with the project is based on extensive research, analysis of the soil at Portaferry and time working with our suppliers in Tanzania to learn how best to grow tea in Northern Ireland. Tea in Tanzania, after all, is grown on vast plantations which are 7,000 ft above sea level. It’s has also been grown in the UK, at Tregothnan, Cornwall, since 2000.
“Of course it’s a bit of a gamble for us. But the work we’ve carried out ahead of the decision suggests that it should be possible to grow tea at Portaferry. If all goes according to plan, as it should, we could be producing our own Portaferry blend in about five years. It will take this length of time to prepare and nurture the tea plants after they arrive in Northern Ireland in May.
“We’d expect to be planting the tea in about 18 months. We’ve still a lot to learn about the whole process and will be in Tanzania next month to develop the skills we will require to grow tea successfully.
“The process will also equip us with greater knowledge about tea and how to ensure that we continue to offer customers a premium quality experience. Ultimately, we want to be able to offer a really fresh tea, a blend available a few weeks after the leaves have been plucked,” he adds.
As part of the project, the company intends to set up a tea house on site with exhibition space that will be used to inform visitors, including schools and tourists, about the history and development of tea.
Suki Tea has won a series of awards including UK Great Taste Awards for the outstanding quality of its traditional teas such as Belfast Brew as well as its extensive range of infusions. The company recently secured a contract to supply teas to the successful Patisserie Valerie network of cafes in Britain.
Suki Tea recently introduced Afternoon tea ranges and Matcha, the traditional finely milled green tea imported directly from Japan. Matcha is at the heart of the Japanese tea ceremony and will be marketed by Suki to existing and new customers throughout the UK and Ireland.
As well as selling tea throughout the UK and Ireland, Suki Tea currently exports teas and infusions to Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Rwanda and Kenya. The company employs 10 people in Belfast.