There’s nothing more British than a good old cup of tea. But growing the tea leaves on our country’s lands? Nah, that’s the job of overseas plantations, primarily in India and China. At least that was the case until the turn of the millennium, when the Tregothnan estate in southern Cornwall became the UK’s first tea plantation.
Tregothnan, in the fine countryside near the village of St Michael Penkivel, and only a few miles outside of Truro, is described as ‘the first tea gardens in the UK’ that has ‘yielded Britain’s first homegrown English tea’ for more than a decade-and-a-half. More than 20,000 tea bushes are planted on the site every year and although the primary activity on the land is harvesting and making tea, there are some excellent tours offered to visitors.
There’s a beautiful country house on the vast Tregothnan estate, which has been owned by the Boscawen family since 1334 and, around 1800, was home to the first outdoor camellias in the UK. The first tea plants were established on the estate’s Kitchen Garden in 1999 and the first commercial tea was developed here in 2001, with the first English tea sold in November 2005 to upmarket London department store Fortnum and Mason. History abounds here and the grounds are beautiful, with custom-made beehives a big highlight.
You can’t just waltz into Tregothnan, though. You need to book a tour. On such a weekday tour, an expert member of the gardening team will host your group, explaining all about the history of the estate and its plant collections, as well as the success of the tea gardens. The journey takes you through the Halwyn, Coombe and Vounder tea gardens and then heads into the ‘hidden valley jungle garden’ and the rare apple orchards. It takes about two hours, covers about two miles and finishes with, of course, a fine Cornish cream tea.
Other activities that can be booked on the estate include the ‘Tea Takes on the World’ one-day masterclass in the attraction’s tea bar. It’s not cheap, but is an excellent experience for tea buffs and those who want to learn as much as they can about the plant and beverage. Other experiences focus on tea or bees and honey, however to find out what’s on and prices, it’s best to contact the estate directly. Whatever your poison, a trip to this great piece of British tea history in Cornwall is an absolute must for any cha aficionado.