Growing, making, tasting and selling speciality teas
'I never for a moment believed that tea making would become one of the loves of my life and nor could I ever imagine when I set out for Sri Lanka 6 years ago that I would bring my tea-making skills home and help to create a new tea in Scotland.
My adventures in tea began in February 2009 with my journey from Scotland to Sri Lanka to take up a post as a VSO volunteer. My posting took me to a remote corner of the country where I worked with farmers to try to develop rural businesses and farmer trade fairs.
I first met one of the owners of Amba Tea Estate in 2010. After finishing my volunteer placement I started work there as estate manager in early 2011.
My job was to figure out how to revive the ailing estate and to create sustainable livelihoods for local people. The estate covered 110 acres, of which 20 acres were planted with old seedling tea plants.
Tea was the only crop option, so in the absence of a better idea I set about learning the art of tea making. Luckily for me, Nigel Melican of Teacraft Ltd was employed to do a short consultancy, mainly looking at improving field practises. With his guidance and some inspiration from Georgian tea makers I started experimenting and learning how to hand-roll tea in the farm bungalow. Tea in Sri Lanka is produced on a large scale in huge factories. Hand-rolled artisan tea was new to Sri Lanka at that time and very experimental.
My tea experiments finally came good and I received an order from Michal Harney of Harney and Son's (one of the best-known tea experts and tea outlets in America). Orders followed from Fortnum and Mason in the UK.
Today, Amba employs around 30 people, has achieved sustainability and has set up a 10% share scheme for its workers.
I began to hear rumours about tea being planted in Scotland at the same time that I decided to return home to Edinburgh and was offered work as a consultant with Teacraft. My first assignment was to work with Susie Walker-Munro to teach her the art of tea-making and to help her create her first tea, Kinnettles Gold.
I have since set up several micro tea factories around the world including Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Scotland.