April 12, 2012 at 21:00 #7583
Roy Fong grows tea in California
Roy Fong has been running a very successful tea retail business in San Francisco since 1993, specializing in high quality Chinese and Taiwanese tea. So why did he suddenly decide to start growing tea in California?
“I’ve always wanted to show people the true versatility of tea from the onset,” he told us. “I’ve been contracting with farmers in China since 1993 but it isn’t the same unless you actually get your hands dirty! I have been looking for just the right spot for over five years, due to the economic down turn, I was able to find the perfect spot and was able to afford it.”
But why California?
“I live here for one thing, but also, the soil in California is fertile and can grow almost anything,” Fong said. “And California is one of the biggest camellia growing regions, so how fitting is it to grow tea!”
Roy is currently preparing 23 acres for the new cuttings – at a location in the Bay area just over an hour outside San Francisco. He has added compost to the land and is growing almonds on 10 acres and grass on the rest in order to break down the soil and increase organic matter. So far no tea plants are yet in the ground but some 150 seedlings (from Hawaii, China and Taiwan, with more arriving soon from India) are being nurtured in Roy’s greenhouse. He plans to plant out about 500 baby bushes next spring and, once the first batch is established in the tea garden, he will continue to raise new seedlings in the greenhouse. He has four different oolong varietals so far but plans to bring in others in order to run trials to work out which thrive best and produce the best teas. Roy has a small team looking after the plants and expects to hire a few experienced people from China once the bushes are sturdy enough to be harvested.
Roy’s long-term plan is to produce different types of tea but expects to be able to make good oolongs from the hardier oolong varietals. His main challenge will be the weather since California’s summer is hot and dry, whereas in Asia where the plants normally thrive, summer air is much more humid. “We have paid a lot of attention to irrigation and solar netting in order to protect the plants from excessive heat.”
And what about the future?
“I hope that eventually, this will be a learning center where people learn about every aspect of tea cultivation from the soil up – soil management, plant husbandry from cutting or seedlings to adult plants, harvesting, and production,” Fong said. “I am not worried about the future. Whatever happens will take care of itself.”
He is also planning to build a teahouse and a Chinese culture center at the tea garden.
Also nice to see Sakuma Brothers getting international notice. It’s too bad that their bushes are struggling. (I wonder how Tregothnan does it? Georgian tea clones?)
Another one I know of that the article seems to have overlooked is on Minto Island in the state of Oregon. http://www.mintogrowers.com/growing-practices/
It’s a little interesting that all of these American tea ventures are clustered in the Northwest… I would have imagined that any new American tea groups would be located in the Southeast…
April 12, 2012 at 23:45 #7587
@mbanu – the tea culture is so different in the NW than than in the SE. While the climate is better in the latter, I think there is a much more active tea scene in Oregon and Washington. And one that isn’t just based on iced tea.
As to the “harder oolong varietals” – I really didn’t know much about that, so I’ve been busy reading up on those. Pretty interesting. I guess I hadn’t considered the importance of varietal in relation to processing.
I haven’t checked out your links yet, will do so shortly. I got carried away reading about those varietals…
By the way, our neighbor has an amazing tea bush, which is just thriving. Only need to add another 499 more of those and you can add us to your list of new US tea growers on the horizon..
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