In the Azores you will find the only tea plantations in Europe, which produce excellent teas, processing the leaves on vintage 19th century English machinery.
Ribeira Grande, in São Miguel Island, is home to the two tea factories and a plantation--the only such plantation in Europe, courtesy of the island's balmy climate. (It rarely gets below 50°F or above 80°F in the Azores.) Walk the fields, tour the factories and have a cup of tea in a stone-walled tea room.
Chá Porto Formoso (+351 296 442 342; http://www.chaportoformoso.com/) is on the main road between Ribeira Grande and São Brás. It opens 10am-5pm, Monday to Saturday, and entrance is free.
Chá Gorreana (+351 296 442 349; http://www.gorreana.com/ ), is 1.5km along the
same road just beyond the turning for São Brás. It opens 9am-6pm daily;
entrance is free. Gorreana, the older of the two and by far the bigger
operation, has been growing tea since 1883, and is one of the
original 19th-century Azorean tea producers. According to the time
of year, it is possible to have a look at all the different stages of tea
production, from picking - a mechanical procedure which takes place
during the drier months between April and September - to packing, which
is done by a group of local women sitting at tables, shoveling piles of
tea leaves into packets. In between are several vital stages:
wilting; an hour-long rolling process which starts to crush the leaf;
three hours' fermentation; and a 20-minute drying period at a temperature
of 100s? this creates black tea; green tea is produced from the
same leaves, but they are steamed early on in the process to stop
fermentation. The seeds from which the original Azorean tea bushes grew
are thought to have been brought to São Miguel by a commander of
the Portuguese Royal Guards, returning home after a tour of duty in the
Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in the early 19th century. At first, the
bushes were grown for their ornamental value; it wasn't until a virus
threatened to decimate the orange-growing industry on the islands more
than half a century later that experts were brought over from China to
introduce the Azoreans to the fine art of tea production. São Miguel,
with its rich volcanic soil and temperate climate proved a fertile
environment for the bushes. Plantations were established, and 14
factories opened up around the island before the turn of the century.
The Gorreana factory (and the smaller Porto Formoso, about 1.5km away) both produce three varieties of black tea. A single bush can produce leaves for all three. Tea varieties are determined according to where on the bush the leaves are picked from: orange pekoe, the most delicately flavored of the three, comes from the bud and first shoot; pekoe, a less-flavored variety, is from the second leaf; and Broken Leaf, the least aromatic of the three, is made from fragments of the remaining leaves.
The factory experience at Gorreana ends up in what appears to be the works canteen, a small area where visitors and workers can help themselves to a cup of tea, before getting back to work or setting off to explore more of the island.
Porto Formoso is a nice place to savor the drink. The factory produced tea from the 1920s until the 1980s; then, eight years ago, it reopened. A limited amount of tea is made from the bushes grown on the three hectares around the property; there are plans to double the size of the plantation.