THE President of the United States, Barrack Obama, quietly supping on a cup of tea borne from the hills of Wigtownshire. It might seem like a fantasy but with the arrival of Garrocher Grey this picture may well have become a reality in the Oval Office.
Earlier this year, Angela Hurrell’s produce was presented to the world’s most powerful man as a State gift by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Its path to the White House has been 15 years in the making and is part of a Scottish tea revolution.
Think a fine wine or a rare single malt whisky – at £35 for 15 grammes, this is not your standard tea found sitting on a supermarket shelf. This tea is considered to be amongst the best in the world.
Based near to Newton Stewart, Angela originally graduated with a degree in ceramics and made her own pottery before becoming a restorer of fine china and other items for 20 years.
The claustrophobic lifestyle of living in a small terraced house in England finally became too much and her search began for a new home. Wales, Northumbria and Cumbria were investigated before a friend, who had enjoyed a holiday in the area, suggested Wigtownshire.
Her visit north uncovered what would become Garrocher Market Garden, on the site of an old sand quarry, and she moved in ten years ago labouring towards a fruit and vegetable business.
“I grow things,” Angela said simply to describe her life’s passion. “If you give me a piece of land, I’ll plant something.”
After a spell of commercial sale, the vegetables are now grown for herself and a few select businesses and tea has become her passion – one that has been brewing in her mind for several years.
“It was quite by accident,”she said. “I was listening to Gardener’s Question Time about 15 years ago on Radio 4 and someone was talking about growing things like tea, lemons and oranges. The idea intrigued me but I didn’t do anything about it then.
“If I had been living in Wales I would have grown vines for wine but all these years later I got a gut feeling that I wanted a change and tea was what I wanted to do. I found the Wee Tea Company on Facebook and messaged them saying ‘I think I would like to grow tea’.”
Owner and Managing Director Tam O’Braan became a close contact as did tea blender Jamie Russell, who also hails from Wigtownshire. Garrocher is now part of the company’s co-operative.
She was supplied with bushes – Camellia sinensis – and the resulting leaves are sent north to be blended into Garrocher Grey. Standing currently at just two-feet tall and four years old, they will keep producing for 25 years.
In the co-operative, sales go through the Wee Tea Company and Angela has access to other growers and technical support when required. The Wee Tea Company also market the produce, which is starting to pay real dividends world wide.
Once Angela’s leaves are sent north, the blend of Garrocher Grey is created with Tam having brought the idea of using the added ingredient of Monarda Fistulosa or Wild Bergamot back from America.
Angela said: “I know the basics, but I’m no expert. What I do know is that they have created a tea, which is superb.”
It’s a black smoked tea and the Bargamot also grows freely in the garden at Garrocher – giving it the title of a Single Estate Tea.
She describes that taste as full deep and full bodied, soft and slightly sweet on the pallet, with the light smoke and flower scent and taste mingling together.
The variety of tea tree was chosen specifically for its ability to withstand the cold weather but additional protection for the trees is required between October and Spring.
“Tea growing is definitely ‘Slow Britain’ and not something you rush at,” Angela said.
As well as the ups, there come the downs with the sudden period of frost earlier this year taking out a second flush of growth as well as peaches, figs and nectarines in the rest of the garden. But the presentation of her product to the President, is definitely one of her highs.
“It’s rather nice isn’t it,” she said modestly.
Angela Picture: Stephen Jolly Photography
First published Summer2015.