Continental Europe does not have the proper climate for tea production which is why Europe depends on Asian and African sources of tea. There is one part of Europe however, that has been producing tea commercially since the 19thcentury - the Azores.

The Azores are an archipelago of nine islands situated in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. This Portuguese territory stretches over 600 km at about the same latitude as Lisbon. The islands have a moderate climate and are rich in volcanic soil.

The Azores have been inhabited since 1439, and tea was introduced about 1750 as an ornamental shrub. In the mid 19th century a virus which threatened the orange-growing industry prompted the interest in commercial tea production.

In 1878 two Chinese nationals from Macau were brought to the Azores and employed in developing the tea industry. They acted as advisors in the areas of tea cultivation and tea processing and set up tea production facilities according to Chinese methods.

The soil and climate of the Azores proved ideal for tea, and by the end of the 19th century fourteen tea factories were in operation.

Of these original fourteen factories only two are still in operation. The Gorreana factory has been operating continuously since its founding, but the Porto Formoso factory was closed for about 20 years before recently being re-opened.

These two factories are the only commercial tea producers in Europe. Black tea is the major product, but a limited amount of green tea is also produced. The black tea from Gorreana comes in three grades - Orange Pekoe, Pekoe, and Broken Leaf, and their green tea is known as Hysson.

Tea Tours

Both tea factories encourage visitors and have exhibits about Azorean tea history. Old machinery is on display and tours of the tea processing plant can be arranged. Tea processing takes place between April and September when you can watch as the tea is wilted, rolled, fermented, and dried prior to packing.

The Gorreana factory is the larger of the two, and has a plantation of about 50 hectares. The Porto Formoso factory has a plantation of about 3 hectares but there are plans to increase that size in the coming years.