Marco Bertona: Building the Italian Tea Industry – Plant by Plant

Marco Bertona at his Verbania tea garden in Italy. Photo: Courtesy of ITA.Tea.

Marco Bertona is working tirelessly to build the tea industry in Italy – from working as the executive director and chairman of the Italy Tea & Infusions Association (ITA.Tea), to working with the International Union of Tea Industry Cooperation in China as a board member and representative of Italy. But most notably, Bertona is trying to garner recognition for Italian teas with a large-scale experimental tea estate.

Marco Bertona. Photo: Courtesy of ITA.Tea.

“Tea Is Not Part of the Italian Tradition”
According to Bertona, Italy is a coffee-centric culture and does not have as rich or developed a tradition of tea drinking as most European countries. “Although tea is not part of the Italian tradition, consumers here increasingly accept tea and are keen to try new types and flavors,” he says.

“The penetration of tea is increasing in Italy,” continues Bertona, “and Euromonitor’s figures show positive prospects for the Italian market, although it has historically experienced lower level of consumption and import compared to other European countries. For this reason, contrary to some more saturated markets, Italy has potential waiting to be exploited precisely because it has not been penetrated largely in the industry.”

The Italian Tea Alchemist
Considered the “alchemist of Italian tea” by some, Bertona has opened the path towards a new beginning and a potential supply chain for tea made in Italy, by running an estate in the Piedmont region in the province of Verbania, situated in the northwest region of Italy, on the border with Switzerland at the foot of the Alps. It is there, over the last several years, where Bertona has experimented with cultivating tea that is fully Italian and organic.

As of today, more than 24,000 seedlings have been planted in an open-field system making, Bertona’s Verbania tea garden the largest tea estate in Europe, after the plantation on the island of São Miguel in the Azores.

Verbania tea garden in Italy. Photo: Courtesy of Marco Bertona and ITA.Tea.

As a technical partner in the estate, Bertona’s first harvest was reaped in April 2020. “Our white tea production of last year was produced in limited quantities, and sold out in a few weeks,” says Bertona. “Now Italian tea lovers are waiting for next spring. Some have already booked for the next harvest.”

Receiving Accolades and Attention
Bertona’s Verbano White Tea was recently named a 2020 Gold Winner in the White Tea category in the 3rd Annual Teas of the World Contest. The contest is the only European independent tea producer awards program, organized by the Agency for the Valorization of Agricultural Products (AVPA), a French non-governmental, non-profit organization. The competition was held in the fall of 2020, and it focused on tea producers from all over the world with 21 participating countries.

“I am honored to have been recognized with a Gourmet Gold Medal for my Verbano White Tea, as it is a great recognition from an independent panel of experts,” notes Bertona. “Also, it is an honor to receive this award amongst so many notable tea producers and worthy peers. This is one of my greatest achievements this year.”

Marco Bertona’s Verbano White Tea was recently named a 2020 Gold Winner in the white tea category in the 3rd Annual Teas of the World Contest from AVPA.

Bertona also won Gold accolades with his Verbano Black Tea in the International Black Tea Tasting Competition, organized by the Tea Industry Committee of China (an organization linked with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture).

“In October 2020, something totally unexpected happened,” Bertona says about the Chinese competition. “After a strict selection procedure, the Verbano Black Tea – also referred to as ‘red tea,’ in accordance with the Chinese naming system – was eligible to take part in an international contest of black teas in China, the homeland of tea. The fact of passing the selection for admission to the contest was not only a great honor for me but was more than we could have ever hoped for. It was already a victory for me.”

The International Black Tea Tasting Competition was open to tea producers from all around the world with 104 competing teas, and Berton's tea stood out.

“The Verbano Black Tea won the Gold Award, the most coveted in its category, surpassing about a hundred candidates from the world’s greatest tea-producing Countries, including China, Nepal, Kenya, Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand and Turkey,” says Bertona. For him, these prestigious acknowledgements are confirmation of Italy’s ability to produce excellent tea, especially as consumers in the country seek out more premium or specialty teas.

“The acceptance of premium teas is evident [in Italy],” explains Bertona. “Consumers now look for more variety in tea, displaying greater appreciation of specialty teas such as white tea, oolong tea and dark tea. They are also attracted to health-positioned tea and green tea in particular, which is very well known for its antioxidant properties. Fruit and herbal tea products, which are naturally caffeine-free, are also highly appreciated by consumers, thanks to their relaxing, digestive and slimming properties.”

Infused Verbano White Tea Leaves. Photo; Courtesy of Marco Bertona.

Looking Ahead
Bertona believes that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tea did not decrease sales in Italy, and that it impacted coffee more, as “tea and infusions are generally more popular beverages for home consumption, with retail sales of tea generally more developed than foodservice sales,” he says.

For the future, Bertona plans to continue building on the success of his experimental tea plantation in Italy, while building the Italian market for tea through the Italy Tea & Infusions Association.

To learn more about Italy Tea & Infusions Association (ITA.Tea), visit AssoteInfusi.it.