Tea culture is thought to have been introduced in the Azores in the beggining of the 19th century, around 1820, by the hands of Jacinto Leite, from the island of São Miguel, who created the first tea plantation in the island. The plantation was made using seeds brought from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he was working as commander of the Royal Guard of King John VI.
In the 19th century, the disappearance of the production of Orange in the Azores drove the members of the Micalense Promoter Society to the cultivation of tea. Its peak was reached in the 1950’s with 250 tons, resulting from 300 ha of cultivation.
The First World War and later the customs protection of the Mozambique tea progressively triggered a crisis. In 1966, out of 14 processing tea factories there were only 5 remaining. Currently only two survive: the Gorreana Tea Factory and the Porto Formoso Tea Factory.
The tea is made up of dried leaves from the tea tree (Camellia sinensis), a small tree of the Teáceas family. All tea comes from this plant and its hybrids. The difference between types of tea resides in the selection of tea leaves and their treatment.
Worldwide, there are about 3,000 varieties of tea, all with differences in flavor and characteristics. These differences arise from the geographical area of origin, weather conditions, the "caste" of plants and even the altitude at which it is produced.
From the first tea leaf comes “Orange Pekoe” – an extremely aromatic and light tea.
From the second tea leaf comes “Pekoe” – less aromatic than “Orange Pekoe” but with a more intense flavour.
From the third tea leaf comes “Broken Leaf” – a tea with a lighter aroma and taste and poor in theine.
During the harvest of the tea, the plant shoots are picked when most have already three leaves. This is because each shoot is of a different age and, as such, different chemical compositions. Each leaf will give a different tea with distinct flavours and aromas. Moreover, different processing methods transform these leaves into one of three main types of tea: black, green or oolong.
For Black Tea, leaves are subjected to withering and successive windings, causing partial crushing of the plant’s tissues. Thereafter they are exposed to air and undergo a slow natural process of oxidation, fermentation and drying.
For the production of green tea, the leaves are sterilized with steam, rolled and then dried using the Hysson method. This originates a tea that is rich in tannin, with an intense flavor and colour green.
Tea contains biochemical compounds called polyphenols, including flavonoids. The latter are also found in fruit and vegetables and are antioxidants, which prevents the degeneration of cells responsible for more than fifty diseases.
Recent studies have shown that the regular consumption of tea inhibits clumping of blood platelets, avoiding dangerous clots that cause the majority of heart attacks and strokes. Other studies suggest that the tea in an inhibitor of some types of cancer, including respiratory and digestive tract and the skin.