The hills of Vancouver Island in British Columbia are lush and verdant, their greenery resembling the slopes of Darjeeling or Yunnan. The stands of pines are reminiscent of those in Japan’s hilly tea farms. Judged by only the abundance of chlorophyll, it seems that tea could find a home here.
And it has, thanks to Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann, who Fresh Cup profiled in our May 2015 issue. They planted their first 200 Camellia sinensis plants in 2010 at their farm, called Teafarm, and experimented with harvests over the next six years. They then planted another 600 bushes. This month, they’re releasing their first commercial crop, a green tea they’re calling Tree Frog Green. It’s the first Canadian-grown tea on the market.
While the hillocks of Vancouver Island appear welcoming to tea, the island lies much, much farther north than even Japan’s northerly tea fields. Teafarm’s first year of cultivation was rough.
Writer Lu Ann Pannunzio described it in her story, “Tea of the Northern Isle”:
“A harsh first winter of lessons followed. The worst was a ten-day stretch when the temperature hit about negative fifteen degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit). They covered half of the plants for protection. Unfortunately, after the freeze a big snowstorm ultimately caused more damage by crushing the covered plants.
‘The first winter was the first experiment to say we are not even going to cover the tea plants because we will end up losing them to breakage more than to the snow,’ says Vesely. ‘The snow ended up actually protecting the uncovered tea plants more because they were insulated.’ He and Nellemann knew they were on to something pretty positive when only one plant was lost through the rough season. ‘The farm wants to grow tea,’ says Vesely.”
Nelleman and Vesely have made white, oolong, and black teas from their harvests, experimenting with processing in the farm’s barn. Those trials were kept off their shelves as the pair found their processing footing and let their young plants get out of their toddler years.
The new tea went for sale at the beginning of this month, and is in very limited supply. If you’re lucky enough to get an order in, the tea will be housed in a ceramic box created by Nellemann.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup‘s editor.