The majestic Azores islands are known for their Eco-friendly existence and natural landscapes that blanket these 9 islands with views that rival any exotic paradise. The region in the Mid-Atlantic ocean has added unique, exotic vegetation that due to the fertile soil and consistent amount of rain allows this very unique plant called “Camellia Sinensis” to thrive; producing what we call tea or “Cha” as pronounced in Portuguese.
In the midst of the “Orange Crisis” in the Azores in the mid-1800s, vast plantations were transformed from orange groves to tea plantations. It was here where millions of pounds of oranges known as “St. Michael’s Oranges” or “Winter Oranges” were exported from the island of Sao Miguel to the UK annually and was a lucrative business for the Azorean landowners and regional economy. The iconic fruit and its glory and wealth that it brought to the island soon became a relic of the past. Disease soon spread to the orange trees that caused the discoloration of the oranges which then began to have patches of green and brown on them causing them to lose their appeal aesthetically with the British merchants; since its appeal along with its taste was its bright orange color. The Azorean landowners with a group called SPAM Sociedade do Promacao Agricultura Micaelense began a comprehensive study on which agricultural products would be successful in the Azores, with the intention of introducing new agricultural products to the region for commercial production. The decision to begin producing tea on the islands was favored by the group as it had many benefits both in terms of production yields and consumption values. Tea throughout Europe had always been consistently steady, so the idea of producing high quality, pesticide-free teas for both internal and external markets sounded appealing and profitable. The process soon began recruiting the finest tea masters in Macau (then a Portuguese Colony) to come to the Azores islands; notably the islands of Sao Miguel and Faial, and teach the art of tea cultivation to the Portuguese islanders. Lau-a-Pan and Lau-a-Teng were the two officials who came from Macau and began to teach the Portuguese landowners where the best places to grow tea on the islands were and how to plant and manage the crops. It must be noted that it was the wealthy Azorean nobleman Jose do Canto who was the pioneer and visionary behind this endeavor. The passion Jose felt for his island of Sao Miguel was the driving force in ensuring a sustainable future for future generations of Azoreans. The first outcomes of the teas were sent to the Kew Museum in the UK for testing and observation of the dried tea leaves. It was here that the initial trials and results were given about the quality of these new teas from the Azores. In 1879 in both Clube Micaelense and Clube Lisbonense two of the country’s oldest and most exclusive social clubs began introducing the teas for the Azores to its members and then began expanding into all domestic markets in the Portuguese empire. In the coming 20th century with many testing done on the production of tea in the Azores, it seemed that the Azorean teas have been found comparable to other high-quality teas from some of the most recognized regions for tea production. It was then that the tea plantation owners began increasing their production and investing more in advancing techniques and methods to secure greater yields. It was during the second world war in Europe with Portugal being a neutral country in the war that created an increased demand for the production of Azorean teas to sustain the European market. Many of the trading routes and countries involved in tea production were devastated by the war which gave way to teas from more sustainable and reliable sources to be introduced, most notable teas from Portugal. This allowed the relatively unknown teas and various other products from Portugal; most notably the Azores to be introduced to both servicemen and consumers who otherwise may have never come across the products. This allowed many brands to become staples in Portuguese homes with the prized Cha Gorreana tea plantation soon becoming a symbol of pride and ingenuity for the country. It was during the 1960s and ’70s with the economic turmoil going on in Portugal and its colonies all over the globe that the decline in Azorean tea began. The prices and production of tea from more profitable regions began overwhelming the price of production in the Azores forcing many tea plantations to close and switch to more profitable farming, with less competition. Of the 16 plantations that existed on the island of Sao Miguel at the beginning of the 20th century they began to dwindle in the 1960s and 1970s to 1 remaining in 1980; the Cha Gorreana tea plantation, being the only location in all of Europe at the time to still produce tea commercially. There were many offers from wealthy English and South African businessman to purchase the prized Portuguese company over the decades but the owners D. Margarida Hintze Motta and Hermano Athaide Motta refused to sell, ensuring its survival into the 21st century. The 6th generation family-owned and operated plantation continues to preserve the culture and heritage of tea production that exists only here on the island of Sao Miguel.