Touring the Gorreana Tea Plantation

Playground Earth | Tea Plantation

RIBEIRA GRANDE

Azores Islands, Portugal

It was an unusually crystal clear day in mid May so we decided to explore the north shore of the island of Sao Miguel. After spending the morning driving from one mirador (scenic overlook) to another we headed along the north coast past the villages of Lomba da Maia and Maia. With the deep blue Atlantic to our right and rolling fields covered in every shade of green imaginable we suddenly came across hillsides covered in hundreds of emerald green rows of neatly manicured tea shrubs.

We went into the equivalent of a time warp yet this was more of a location warp. “Where are we?” we asked each other. “India, Bali or perhaps Sri Lanka?”. No…we had not been teleported to one of those far off lands known for their own long histories of cultivating tea. Instead we had just discovered the oldest, and only, remaining tea plantation in all of Europe, the Gorreana Tea Plantation.

Playground Earth | Touring the Gorreana Tea Plantation | Road through the tea fields
Playground Earth | Road through the tea fields

Curious to know more we drove up the long driveway leading to the main building to further investigate. A worker informed us that Cha Gorreana Tea Plantation was normally open to the public however, due to the pandemic tours of the plant had been indefinitely suspended. Just as we were about to get back in the car we were greeted by an genial and energetic woman who informed us that, while there were no tours, we were welcome to walk through the terraces and explore for as long as we wished. With a heartfelt thank you we headed across the road to bask in the waist high, lush green terraces and expansive views of the ocean.

Playground Earth | Cha Tea Factory
Playground Earth | Cha Tea Factory
Playground Earth | Cha Gorreana Sign Post
Playground Earth | Cha Gorreana Sign Post

Typically this place would be overrun with tourists and locals out for a day in the sun along with a guided tour of the plant and terraces. The gift shop, museum and tasting room, would also be crawling with tea lovers from around the world anxious to sample Gorreana’s wide variety of world class teas.

Yet here we were, all alone, walking among row upon row of neatly manicured tea shrubs. What we were experiencing as we marveled at the 32 acres of terraced land was six generations of hard work, dedication and a profound love of tea dating as far back as 1883.

Playground Earth | Touring the Gorreana Tea Plantation |A walk through the terraces
Playground Earth | A walk through the terraces

Back in the car we both knew that we wanted to learn more about this fascinating place so, after returning home I sent an e-mail expressing our desire to interview someone at Cha Gorreana for a Playground-Earth story.

Within 24 hours I received the following message.

“Hello !
My name is Madalena and I was the one who received you yesterday and I am the person responsible for Gorreana’s public relations, and yes, I can gladly welcome you for a tour.”

We agreed on a day and time to meet and as luck would have it Madalena happened to be the the 6th. generation family member now managing Cha Gorreana.

We arrived at 9am sharp on the designated day and Madalena was cheerfully there to greet us. She graciously walked us through every step of the labor intensive green tea making process from bringing in the fresh leaves to sorting, sterilizing, rolling, drying, second rolling and polishing before moving to the final steps of separating and packaging.

Playground Earth l Touring the Gorreana Tea Plantation | Sorting Tea Leaves
Playground Earth l Sorting Tea Leaves
Playground Earth l Tea Plantation Rollers
Playground Earth l Tea Plantation Rollers
Black tea goes through slightly fewer steps although the same amount of care and attention are devoted to the process. The fresh leaves are left to naturally wilt (no heat or sterilization is used). The leaves are then rolled and exposed to air to begin the slow, natural process of oxidation, fermentation and drying. This takes place on large, screened trays that allow air to pass over and under the leaves.
Playground Earth l Black Tea Drying Racks
Playground Earth l Black Tea Drying Racks

Over the course of our hour-long tour we came to realize how much of a hands-on occupation tea making is and how the workers involved in the process are dedicated professionals who take tremendous pride in their work. Of course, machines are involved in nearly every step of the process, yet it is the men and women who operate, and maintain the machines and sort and package the finished leaves that account for the high quality of Gorreana’s product.

Most of the machines, steamers, conveyor belts and sorters in use today are the original machines dating back to the 1800’s. As we observed the various stages of production it struck us that not only were we watching something in real time but we were also witnessing history. It was a fascinating juxtaposition of past and present and we could not have had a better tour guide than Madalena as she patiently allowed us to take dozens of photos and nearly as many videos!

Playground Earth l Tea Sterilizing Boxes
Playground Earth l Tea Sterilizing Boxes
The second to the last stop on our tour was a visit to the sorting room where several ladies meticulously inspect large piles of tea for any imperfections. This is thoughtful, almost meditative work, yet they all had smiles on their faces giving us the impression that they truly enjoyed their job. Once again, their pride was obvious as they laughed and talked among themselves.
Playground Earth l Black Tea Sorting Room
Playground Earth l Black Tea Sorting Room
Playground Earth l Black Tea Ready for Packaging
Playground Earth l Black Tea Ready for Packaging
Our last stop was the museum showcasing old tools used for maintaining the machinery along with antique fans, oil lanterns and various other artifacts.
Playground Earth l Antique Machine Tools
Playground Earth l Antique Machine Tools

Being that this was our first ever visit to a tea plantation it was quite an experience. With Madalena as our guide, sharing intimate, and sometimes funny, stories about six generations of her family along with the history of the plantation, we felt very fortunate to spend an hour with this energetic and generous woman.

Prior to the global pandemic Madalena spent roughly half of her year travelling to various countries, attending tea conventions and conferences, where oftentimes she was the keynote speaker. Today it was just the three of us…one woman sharing her boundless enthusiasm for tea and two new followers.

She is truly a force of nature carrying on her family’s 137 year tradition.

Playground Earth l Madalena and her new student
Playground Earth l Madalena and her new student

If you would like to learn more about the history of Goreanna Tea Plantation including hours of operation, tours and location click here.

One visit to this wonderful, exotic plantation and you will know why Gorreana Tea is recognized internationally as a world class tea.

Playground Earth l Cha Gorreana Tea
Playground Earth l Cha Gorreana Tea