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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.