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TRURO, England |
TRURO, England (Reuters) – An estate owned by descendants of the 19th century British aristocrat for whom Earl Grey tea was named is turning history on its head by selling English tea to China.
The Tregothnan estate in the southwestern English county of Cornwall started selling tea from its tiny plantation in 2005 and last year produced about 10 metric tons (11.023 tons) of tea and infusions.
Although a drop in the ocean of global tea production, which the UK Tea Council estimated to be about 4.3 million metric tons, Tregothnan has found a niche for its products by trading on England’s historical reputation as a nation of tea-lovers.
“It’s unique. There’s no one else who’s growing tea in England and putting English tea on the market,” owner Evelyn Boscawen told Reuters.
The long history of immersing tea leaves in hot water for a refreshing drink is not lost on the son of the current Viscount Falmouth and a descendant of British Prime Minister Charles Grey, for whom the bergamot-flavored Earl Grey tea is named and whose Reform Act of 1832 sowed the seeds of modern parliamentary democracy and universal suffrage in Britain.
Chinese tea has been coming to Britain since the East India Company first imported it in the 17th century for consumption by wealthy aristocrats.
By the Victorian era, taking tea had become a regular ritual at almost every level of society from elaborate afternoon tea for the rich in country houses to tea and gruel for the working poor as depicted by author Charles Dickens.
But the Boscawens at Tregothnan are bucking the historic trend of tea flowing from East to West by beginning to export some of their wares to China and elsewhere.
“We do see China as an opportunity at the moment,” Boscawen said. “The Chinese are great lovers of buying exotic things from all over the world. Even if it might have come from China (originally).”
Tea, native to Asia, is not traditionally grown in Britain but can be cultivated outdoors at Tregothnan, which is situated in England’s southwest and benefits from an unusual microclimate similar to that of Darjeeling in India.
Less similar to India is the tiny scale of production at Tregothnan, which might be large enough to be considered a small Darjeeling tea garden, the English estate’s commercial and garden director Jonathan Jones said.
“We went into this right from the outset as being able to put the English into English tea,” Jones said. “We weren’t ever looking at being the new India or China, that’s ridiculous.”
Tregothnan projected sales of teas and infusions of 2 million pounds ($ 3.14 million) in 2013, with 1 million pounds coming from exports.
This is a miniscule sum in comparison to the global export market, with the world’s largest black tea exporter, Kenya, predicting tea exports earnings of $ 1.33 billion in 2013.
But the small English operation is attracting attention, including from Chinese state television, which pitched up for several days of filming for a program to be aired in the coming months to hundreds of millions of viewers.
Tregothnan is also hoping to open a franchise of tea houses named “Festival of Tea”, selling tea in a coffee-house style. They plan to open one such outlet this year in Shanghai, after “serious interest from Chinese investors,” Jones said.
The export market is also a place where Tregothnan hopes to find customers willing to meet its higher prices. Small-scale production and its location means its teas can cost up to 20 times as much per cup as the cheapest market blends.
“We’re in recession, but other countries aren’t, so it makes sense to export,” general manager Andy Phillips said. “The key is not to get dragged into competing on price.”
Tregothnan has targeted the high end of the market in Britain, selling some of its products to expensive hotels like the Savoy and Claridge’s, which are already major tourist destinations for expensive English afternoon teas.
Referencing the stereotypical English love of a good brew is a big part of Tregothnan’s marketing strategy.
“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea,” is the quote attributed to Basque philosopher Bernard-Paul Heroux that adorns individual packets containing the estate’s tea bags.
With a portion of its tea bushes nestled in the estate’s pleasure gardens, Tregothnan looks more like a vast country estate than an agricultural business, and its owners live on the site which has been the family home since 1335.
Tregothnan’s historic setting, with its imposing country house and graceful grounds, is important for the brand.
“It’s an enormous story that goes into the whole product,” owner Boscawen said.
Tregothnan is part of a wider trend of small tea producers in strange parts of the world, according to Jane Pettigrew, a tea expert and author of several books on the subject.
“People are planting tea in the most extraordinary places at the moment,” she said.
“There are people in Hawaii growing tea, there are people in Canada planting tea, and there are people up in Scotland planting tea.”
($ 1 = 0.6367 British pounds)
(Reporting By Hannah Vinter, editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Paul Casciato)
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Teletoon Canada has set five finalists in each of its English and French contests for the Teletoon at Night Pilot Project.
The project solicited aspiring and professional animators to submit their show ideas for a chance to win $ 10,000 and the opportunity to attend North America’s largest animation conference and festival, the Television Animation Conference and Ottawa International Animation Festival.
Finalists, for both English and French contests, will have their short films featured at a late-night screening during the Ottawa International Film Festival on Sept. 23 at 11 p.m. at the Arts Court Theatre.
The top five finalists for the English contest are:
- Gotcha, by Sandra Loke, of Stoney Creek, Ont.
- Samurai Terrorist, by Matthew Viveen, of Cambridge, Ont.
- Great Minds Taste Alike, by Sheryl Vedamani of Vancouver, B.C.
- The Kitten Factory, by Henry Budd of Burnaby, B.C.
- Off the Wall by Robert Nisperos of Richmond, B.C.
The French finalists are:
- Les Imbroglios, by Jonathan Savoie of Montreal.
- Jean-Paul, by Fred Pitteloud of Montreal
- La justiciere rose, by Philippe Ramsay Gaudreau of Lemoyne, Quebec.
- Cobaye en fuite, by Steve Ouellette of Montreal.
- Swing, by Carl Beauchemin of Montreal.
Fans can vote for their favorite English-language finalists on teletoonatnight.com and at teletoonlanuit.com for the French-language contest starting July 31. The video that receives the most votes by Aug. 28 will be crowned the winner and revealed on-air and online on Sept. 18.
The grand prize winner of each English and French contest will be awarded:
- $ 10,000 in Canadian funds
- Two roundtrip airline tickets from the closest Canadian commercial airport to the winner’s residence to Ottawa
- Four nights accommodation in Ottawa
- Two delegate passes to the Television Animation Conference and Ottawa International Animation Festival
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