Tea in Scotland

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Tea in Scotland

Although England often gets credited for their obsessive tea culture, and rightfully so, their Northern neighbors the Scots certainly deserve some attention as well. Whiskey, Haggis and bagpipes might stand at the forefront of what is quintessentially Scottish, tea is arguably just as important. Not only do the Scots have a tremendously rich history when it comes to tea, they carry on that tradition to this day!

Tea was believed to be introduced to Scotland by Mary of Modena, the Duchess of York, in the early 1600s. In this colonial era many Scotts took advantage of this burgeoning new industry and moved to India or Sri Lanka to found and manage tea plantations. A premier example is James Taylor, the planter who introduced tea to British Ceylon, modern day Sri Lanka. Near the end of the 19th century, Taylor went into business with another Scot named Thomas Lipton, who established the Lipton Tea company that still dominates to this day. A final example is found in Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist who is said to have smuggled tea plants from China to Darjeeling, India in 1848. Suffice it to say that the Scots were heavily involved in the development of the tea trade in Europe from its earliest days.  

So why is Scotland rarely mentioned alongside the English when it comes to tea. Well, one of the theories about the origins of the world renown English breakfast tea is that it was invented by Scotsman Robert Drysdale, one of the founders of Brodie’s Tea (a brand still active today). It is argued that he served Queen Victoria his tea blend in 1892, during a visit to Scotland, and that she loved it so much that she took some back with her to England and rebranded and popularized the tea in her home country. In modern times, Scottish breakfast tea separates itself from its English (and Irish) counterparts for having a stronger, more robust taste, a more smokey taste, and higher levels of caffeine. The reason for carrying an extra punch is so it could blend well with the water in Scotland, which tends to me on the softer and saltier side.

Perhaps more interestingly, Scotland even grows their own tea. While we often tend to think of the lush tea fields of India or Taiwan, tea is also grown in the cold, rainy, foggy climate of the highlands. Since the winters are cold, the tea growing season is relatively short, about six months, and not all seeds take to the soil equally. However, the soil tends to be quite acidic, which is ideal for growing tea. In 2016, a group of nine tea farmers, all women, formed the Tea Gardens of Scotland, and began experimenting and developing novel methods of growing tea in this ostensibly difficult terrain. The work is time consuming, and the yield quite small, but the result is not only rare, but high quality, hand crafted, quintessentially Scottish tea. And it only seems to get better with time.

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