Portuguese Tea Garden – Chá Camélia

Wenzhuo Liu

German Nina Gruntkowski moved to Portugal 15 years ago as a Portuguese journalist of German radio broadcast. In an interview in 2011, Peter Oppliger, who initiated the Swiss tea garden in Ascona, gave her a tea tree. She has always dreamed of making more real and touchable products than radio, so she came up with the idea of planting tea trees. Nina first obtained 200 asexually propagated tea seedlings from Peter and planted them in her garden. In 2013, she transformed an old family vineyard into a tea plantation and cooperated with a Camellia expert. They used tea seeds for sexual reproduction and cuttings of mother trees of different small leaf species found in Portugal for asexual reproduction, and successfully developed 12000 clumps of tea trees on the land covering an area of 1 hectare. After more than 10 years of careful cultivation and management, some tea trees can be picked. They mainly produce steamed green tea, and the output is also increasing year by year. In 2019, 12kg, 2020, 50kg, 2021, in addition to 85kg steamed green tea, Nina also began to try to produce a small amount of Oolong tea.

In Sintra, 30 kilometers away from Porto, where Nina is located, Elise, Countess of EDLA, the second wife of Fernando II in the 19th century, was the first to plant tea trees here. It can be said that Nina’s tea garden is the second tea garden in Portuguese mainland. She thought that the tea tree came from genus Camellia, and the northern coast of Portugal where she lived was famous for its rich variety of precious camellia flowers, so she named her company Chá Camélia. Morimoto couple from Japan have many years of experience in growing tea and producing tea. They and Nina couple have visited each other’s tea garden many times. Nina also began to learn Japanese for better communication. With the help and guidance of Morimoto couple, not only the tea planting technology has been improved, but Nina, inspired by the Japanese tea making technology, has created three types of steamed green tea according to the order of harvest time and the degree of handcraft.

Nina’s husband Dirk Niepoort is the fifth generation descendant of the Portuguese wine maker family. Inspired by the tea man in Jeju Island, South Korea, who aged oolong tea in cedar wood cases, he thought of scenting tea with port wine barrels in his wine cellars, so he launched wine flavor oolong tea Pipachá in 2017. Nina listened to Dirk’s suggestions and followed her taste preferences. She chose imported oolong tea produced in China as scented tea materials. She also vacated a cellar and transformed it into a room with controllable temperature and humidity for the production of Pipachá. The whole scenting process generally lasts for six months, and the intermediate process still needs to constantly adjust and replace wine barrels. Now Pipachá can be continuously produced throughout the year, and has received orders of more than 100 kilograms from a major customer in Macao, China. In 2018, Nina and Dirk followed the team of the Tea Grown in Europe  association and visited tea related industries in several major tea producing areas in China under the organization of the Chinese Tea Science Society. She was amazed at the wide variety of tea production in China, but regretted that due to the travel time limit, she did not have the opportunity to experience and learn tea making by herself.

Nina once studied in geography related majors, so she naturally like to study the growth geographical environment of tea trees. After three years of application waiting period, her tea garden has obtained the EU organic agriculture standard. In the future, the tea garden will focus on the production of organic high-quality loose tea. Because mature tea plants have many flowers and tea flowers have high utilization value, Nina dehydrates and dries the tea flowers after harvesting, so as to maintain the visual and sensory quality of the overall shape of the flowers. Compared with Chinese tea tree flowers, the processing after harvesting is relatively simple, and there are no withering, killing green and other processes. Different from the Chinese scientific research team’s recommendation of using tea tree flowers to blend black tea to improve the aroma of black tea and add honey fragrance of tea flowers, Nina uses summer harvest green tea to blend tea tree flowers, and also sells tea tree flowers and some herbal tea separately. Recently, she has also cooperated to launch Kombucha green tea beverage.

Nina has not made too many predictions about the future of tea planting in Europe. After all, compared with the international tea industry, Europe’s current tea production is like a drop in the ocean, but it is certain that the influence of tea gardens on surrounding places and the educational significance for Europeans promote people to realize that tea is not only cheap bag tea, but also high-quality loose tea. The new media era has a great impact on many things, as well as the dissemination of tea culture. It is not only the means and visual display of tea marketing, but also the concept of slow life tea tasting.

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