Tea may be about to join coffee, beer, wine and spirits as the next Northwest-produced beverage. Oregon’s tea industry has a history as long as its beer cousin, but it’s always been an import business. The tasks of growing and processing tea belong almost entirely to South and East Asian countries where the tea plant is native and has long been cultivated.
An article in the latest issue of Edible Portland tells the story of Minto Island Growers, a farm outside of Salem that started Oregon’s first tea plot in 1989. Before it was planted, no one thought tea could thrive in the Willamette Valley. Tea plants, much like grape vines, takes years to mature into full bushes, and plants can live for a century or more. Elizabeth Miller, the owner of Minto Island Growers, the farm she grew up on, says it’s taken a quarter century for her family to not just grow the plants but learn how to best take care of them. She calls tea the most complicated plant she’s ever farmed.
The tea plot is small, only about an acre. And it’s labor intensive, requiring just the top two leaves and a bud be picked by hand. Right now, a limited amount of Minto Island’s tea is for sale. It will take a lot more plants for Oregon to have a tea industry of any size, but the state has carved beverage niches before.
Are you a tea drinker? Would you be willing to pay more for tea if it was grown in Oregon?