Jersey Fine Tea: ‘Our Island Terroir Is Special…"

The Jersey Fine Tea estate
The Jersey Fine Tea estate. Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea. (Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea)

Jersey Fine Tea is “on to something,” believes Eunice Pallot, a tea sommelier and the estate’s marketing manager. The tea producer is based in Jersey, a British Crown Dependency that forms part of the British Isles. The island is famous for the quality of its agricultural exports – from the Jersey Royal potato to rich and creamy milk from the area’s purebred Jersey cows. Pallot says the soil and microclimates in Jersey are integral to the estate’s success.

“Our island terroir is special and whatever that naturally contributes to the tea, we will respect it,” says Pallot. "We want our tea to taste of its provenance, and hand-picked leaves crafted in small batches is a great route to achieving that.”

Eunice Pallot (right) and Jersey Fine Tea Project manager and Tea Maker Alicia Gentili. Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea.

Jersey Fine Tea first planted in 2017 and processing began last year. The estate has a total of six acres of tea, all grown from seed, with plans to plant more in the future. Their teas are currently available online – all high value, whole-leaf white, green and black teas, hand-picked and processed in small batches.

“It's not all been plain sailing, but we're on the right track,” shares Pallot. “We have ongoing issues with moles and rabbits – nothing insurmountable but it's galling when you find a rabbit's fatally chewed the stems of another plant.”

Seedlings at Jersey Fine Tea. Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea.

Pallot reveals the estate’s three tea gardens were chosen with considerable care, and that they analyzed the soil and looked for protected sites on free-draining slopes with sunny aspects. “It's tricky, but the potential is there for high-quality tea growing,” says Pallot. “We feel lucky to be this far south – we're an hour on the ferry to France – in what's oft-described as the sunniest place in the British Isles.”

According to Pallot, the climate in Jersey is still “challengingly cool” for the tea bush, so favorable microclimates are necessary. “Our island is small, so the sea moderates the temperature and snow seldom settles for long, unlike in Scotland where the growers are having a tough time right now. Let's just hope, for us and our compatriots up and down the British Isles, that the plant's struggle will indeed lift the quality of the finished tea, as it does in the more extreme traditional growing areas across the world.”

Plucking tea at Jersey Fine Tea. Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea.

Jersey Fine Tea was unlucky to be hit with the “Beast from the East” storm in early 2018 – so soon after their first planting – which decimated some of the seedlings. “Looking back, it might have been worth shielding them over the winter months until they were more established, but it was an exceptional year,” notes Pallot. “You just can't prepare for all eventualities.”

Processing at Jersey Fine Tea
Jersey Fine Tea Project manager and Tea Maker Alicia Gentili was recommended to the estate by Nigel Melican of Teacraft Ltd., and she arrived in the summer of 2019. “She's a natural,” says Pallot, “passionate about tea and very practical – the perfect combo.”

Alicia Gentili (Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea)

At the time of Gentili’s arrival, the plants at Jersey Fine Tea were still young, so she experimentally processed the leaves to figure out what suited them – varying withering times, oxidation etc. – in preparation for the 2020 season and the launch of the company’s online sales.

Unfortunately, the estate’s orthodox tea-making equipment arrived mid-way through 2020 – much later than they hoped – yet Gentili and the Jersey team got to grips with it fast. “The new larger wok and small roller were especially welcome, allowing for slightly faster and thorough small-batch processing,” explains Pallot. And more orthodox equipment is en route for this season.

“Processing has honestly been the smoothest part of the whole experience,” shares Gentili. “The leaves are producing great teas – although that partly has to do with how picky I am about the pluck, so I rarely had bad batches. It’s without doubt the most fun and rewarding part of the job for me.”

Withering tea leaves at Jersey Fine Tea. Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea.

In addition to referring Gentili to Jersey Fine Tea, Nigel Melican has been acting as a tea consultant to the business. “He helped us source tea seeds and equipment, advised on planting out and garden husbandry,” notes Pallot. “Unfortunately, he's been Ireland-bound during the COVID-19 crisis, so he's been unable to tread the fields with us and advise first-hand, but he's with us virtually. He's a font of invaluable information generally and a great mentor to Alicia.”

Opportunity for a “Deep Dive into Tea”
Pallot points out that Jersey Fine Tea is looking to build its range and prove that quality can be maintained at higher volumes. “…once we've proven our worth, a new multipurpose tea factory – where we can process, pack, taste, entertain and educate – would be nice,” she says. “We want to spread the word generally about premium quality tea. For a tea-drinking nation, it's time we stepped up a notch.”

The tea estate is also looking to build its team and has several positions available. Training will be provided, but a passion for tea and/or love for working outdoors is a must. Opportunities include: Tea-Making Assistant, Field Assistant and Tea Pickers. All jobs start in April 2021 and are weather dependent. If interested, email [email protected] and explain why you would suit the role.

“Most interesting is the position of assistant tea-maker – this is an amazing and rare chance for someone to deep dive into tea and to develop an understanding that's just not possible from reading a book,” says Pallot. “A few years ago, I'd have applied in a heartbeat.”

The Future of Tea in Jersey
So far, the response to Jersey Fine Tea from consumers has been extremely positive. “Experts and newbies alike have been hugely encouraging,” Pallot says. “They are really surprised by how unique Jersey Fine Tea is, how mellow and complex it is. Of course, there is some bite back at paying more for an artisan product.”

A review by Will Battle, who wrote The World Tea Encyclopedia, notes this about Jersey Fine Tea: “The teas are beautifully made and stand up very well to their peers from traditional origins. The sublime Pai Mu Tan style white tea carries seductive violet perfumed notes, a wok-fired green is full of sappy sweetness recalling the green Mao Jian teas of Hunan, whilst the black balances elements of Keemun perfume with a malty note."

Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea

Moving forward, educating the consumer will be key, according to Pallot, as consumers tend to regard tea as a low value commodity product. “People are prepared to pay a premium for craft ales, great coffee and fine wine – and whole-leaf artisan tea should be no different.”

While word is out about Jersey, Pallot believes tea culture is evolving, so she predicts a rise in the number of growers who will be attracted to the British Isles – including hobbyists popping a few plants in the back garden to tend and enjoy.

To learn more about Jersey Fine Tea, visit JerseyFineTea.com.