Earl Grey descendants sell English tea to China

TRURO, England (REUTERS) - An estate owned by descendants of the 19th century British aristocrat for whom Earl Grey tea was named is turning history on its head by selling English tea to China.

The Tregothnan estate in the south-western English county of Cornwall started selling tea from its tiny plantation in 2005 and last year produced about 10 tonnes of tea and infusions.

Although a drop in the ocean of global tea production, which the UK Tea Council estimated to be about 4.3 million tonnes, Tregothnan has found a niche for its products by trading on England's historical reputation as a nation of tea-lovers.

"It's unique. There's no one else who's growing tea in England and putting English tea on the market," owner Evelyn Boscawen told Reuters.

The long history of immersing tea leaves in hot water for a refreshing drink is not lost on the son of the current Viscount Falmouth and a descendant of British Prime Minister Charles Grey, for whom the bergamot-flavoured Earl Grey tea is named and whose Reform Act of 1832 sowed the seeds of modern parliamentary democracy and universal suffrage in Britain.

Chinese tea has been coming to Britain since the East India Company first imported it in the 17th century for consumption by wealthy aristocrats.

By the Victorian era, taking tea had become a regular ritual at almost every level of society from elaborate afternoon tea for the rich in country houses to tea and gruel for the working poor as depicted by author Charles Dickens.

But the Boscawens at Tregothnan are bucking the historic trend of tea flowing from East to West by beginning to export some of their wares to China and elsewhere.

"We do see China as an opportunity at the moment," Boscawen said. "The Chinese are great lovers of buying exotic things from all over the world. Even if it might have come from China (originally)."

Tea, native to Asia, is not traditionally grown in Britain but can be cultivated outdoors at Tregothnan, which is situated in England's south-west and benefits from an unusual microclimate similar to that of Darjeeling in India.