Belfast Telegraph

Planting in Portaferry is perfect for boutique beverage

By John Mulgrew

Portaferry may not be the high and hot plateaus of northern India, but Suki Tea thinks it could be the perfect spot to grow its high-end morning tipple.

The boutique Belfast tea company is bringing over 4,000 plants from Tanzania, and with help from Greenmount College in Antrim, it's hoping to be producing Northern Ireland-grown tea as early as 2018.

It's an adventurous plan, and would be the first of its kind here.

There's already serious interest in the unique product - with buyers already lined up, according to Suki Tea's co-founder Oscar Woolley.

"It's an amazingly long game to play. We have been doing trials, and are having a much higher rate of success than we'd previously thought," he said.

"We are working with Greenmount College and are ready to order in 4,000 tea plants from Tanzania - we have several places earmarked to grow, including Portaferry."

Mr Woolley says plans are under way to begin growing the plants by this summer.

"Then next year, we would be planting them in the ground," he said.

"So, by autumn 2016 we will start to see them in their natural environment.

"And we are really glad we took the advice from Invest NI - we received an innovation voucher from them."

Currently being tested in poly-tunnels, Mr Woolley hopes the plants will be able to grow outside naturally.

And he's confident the plants will take to the Co Down climate.

"Everyone laughed at the idea of taking grapes to New Zealand," he said. "This is one of the things we have wanted to do for some time. It's not a profit-making thing."

"So far, so good. We expected about a 20% success rate by importing plants like this.

"We are on about a 35% at the moment.

"If you look at some tea plants, the bushes are up to 75 years old.

"But this will be unique to the rest of the world.

"We have buyers lined up for the crop and we might even team up with others - an English, Irish and Scottish blend."

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