Belfast Telegraph

Tam O'Braan's prized White Smoked Tea ... but at £10 a cup it's not to everyone's taste!

By Linda Stewart

The world's finest tea isn't growing on the lowlands of Assam or the slopes of the Himalayas - but a former sheep farm in Scotland.

The best brew in the world is being grown by Northern Irish grower Tam O'Braan (44) in Perthshire and it has just been awarded the prestigious Salon du The award in Paris.

The White Smoked Tea is so highly prized that he is selling it for £1,150 per lb which is 200 times the usual price, making it the second most expensive tea in the world.

Before founding the Wee Tea Company in 2011, former chemist Mr O'Braan spent time on organic farms around the world, studying how best to grow the crop in Scotland's cold climate.

He started off with £140,000 and three plants, from which he took 2,000 cuttings - but disaster struck in 2012 when the crop was almost wiped out by the coldest winter in 200 years.

But last year the plants began to sprout again and Mr O'Braan was able to unveil his first batches of White Tea and White Smoked Tea.

The first batch was sold by mail order at Christmas, much of its being exported to China, and Fortnum & Mason is now stocking the leaves at £30 for a 35g sachet - roughly £10 a cup.

This week the White Smoked variety was handed the top award at Parish's tea awards and is officially the best cuppa on the globe.

"We started with a dream and pursued it. It's wonderful to have all our hard work recognised," he told The Times.

"Some said we were mad but my partners and I knew we could do it, and with two new daughters on the way I confidently expect my children and grandchildren to be producing tea. We are in it for the long haul."

International orders are flooding in for the white and white smoked teas, which are produced in Perthshire by the Wee Tea Company, based on the Dalreoch estate near Dunkeld.

The company believes it benefits from altitude, clean mountain air and fresh spring water which is unique to Scotland.

"The price reflects the rarity," said the father-of-two whose wife Gracie is due to deliver twin daughters this weekend.

"I've worked in five different continents researching how to grow organic foods in marginal climates. I knew we could grow crops in Scotland, and we have.

"The honour of being the most expensive tea in the world rests with a black Chinese tea costing £4,000 a kilo.

"Bizarrely, it is not produced to drink but to be bought and sold as an investment.

"Our tea, while expensive, is very much made to be sipped."

The plantation has 14,000 plants growing at 700ft above sea level, enough to produce tea for the next 70 years.

The Wee Tea Company was originally the brainchild of his partner Jamie Russell, and they were joined by Derek Walker.

Derek told the Belfast Telegraph the climate in Scotland was not dissimilar to other rainy places where tea plants thrive.

"There's lots of water, the soil is full of nutrients and it's really good for the plants.

"You have to be careful that too much sun doesn't get onto the leaves as they could get tarnished," he said.

"The White Smoked Tea is a world first. It's smoked on the plantation up outside Perth and we use beech wood from the woodland to cold smoke the tea. It's now being served at the Balmoral Hotel in Perthshire."

We ask a few well-known faces to tell us about their favourite brew

Former Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton

“I drink Tetley every morning and about another two cups in the clinic during the day.”

Actor and comedian Michael Smiley

“Funny you should ask - I’m having a wee cup now in Brixton market! Assam is my favourite tea but it’s a bit too strong to drink all day.”

Musician Duke Special

“I like a pot of tea at Maggie May’s on Botanic accompanied by a veggie fry! Builder’s tea, I’m afraid.”

BBC Radio Ulster presenter William Crawley

“I drink coffee in the mornings and green tea in the evenings — best on the couch with Judge Judy on.”

BBC weather presenter Cecilia Daly

“Peppermint tea late in the day because morning is all about coffee. I go out for loads for coffee but tea is always at home because I’m normally in my joggers, jammies or onesie!”

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