Chá Gorreana tea plantations and factory, São Miguel, Azores

CHÁ – the Portuguese way of tea
Alexandre Lousada
After 1543, Portuguese traders sailed to Japan opening a new era of economic development and causing the expansion of the Japanese middle class of merchants. These Portuguese traders were called nambam (meaning “southern barbarian”). During the period ruled by Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), the style of samurai castles became more flamboyant and colorful with the incorporation of European designs. These European elements were architectural, furniture or clothes and the style copied by the emerging middle class. The daimyo tea master Furuta Oribe (1543-1615) also assimilated the nambam style in his works of pottery and tea aesthetics became more diverse. In 1546, the merchant Jorge Álvares stayed in Kagoshima and was the first European to describe the all year Japanese habit of drinking “hot water mixed with herbs”. In 1565, the missionary Luís de Fróis (1532-1597) reported from Miyako the same Japanese habit of drinking hot water “as hot as they can stand it” during all year.

However, in the same year, another missionary Luís de Almeida, with medical training, described in a more detailed way in a letter the Japanese tea as “a certain boiled herb, which is called chá and which is tasty to anybody getting used to drinking it”. It also gave a detailed description of its significance and value. The word chá, meaning tea, entered in the Portuguese vocabulary. In 1570 Nagasaki was established as a Portuguese trading post where, among other products, Chinese silk was exchanged with Japanese silver. During this period the missionaries became more interested in tea drinking due to its important role in the Japanese etiquette. After the visit in 1579-1582 of Alessandro Valignano, the Italian religious superior of Jesuit missionaries in Japan, all Jesuit residences had to have a tea room chanoyu to welcome guests for the purpose of greater assimilation of Japanese habits. The Jesuit João Rodrigues was the most fluent in Japanese language and concerning the tea understanding, he was influenced by Rikyu´s way of thought. He met him personaly and was in contact with important tea practitioneers of the time, that were christians, and contacted frequently Rikyu´s disciples. He also had his own tea room at Nagasaki. João Rodrigues wrote the book “This Island of Japon” with four chapters concerning tea and the tea ceremony. In his other book “Arte breve da lingoa Iapoa”, a revised Japanese grammer published in Macao in 1620 for Japanese language students, a primary focus was given to technical phrases related to tea and suki, considered culturaly more important than the other arts like drama, poetry and classical writing. By this time the word chá was already established in the Portuguese language as well as its knowledge. In 1626 the Jesuit António de Andrade, in what was the first contact between European and Tibetans, reported about their tea with the full recognition of being tea. Further in 1631, another Jesuit in Tibet, Francisco de Azevedo, described their tea as an herb provenient from China and the beverage appreciated in the same way as in China and Japan, although with the difference of being mixed with butter and milk. He also wrote about the concept of honor behind the drinking of tea and its healthy effects. Depiste the fact of the Portuguese being the first Europeans to have the knowledge about tea and privileged contacts with Chinese and Japanese since 16 century, the Dutch were established in Japan since 1610 and were the ones responsible to trade tea into Europe and to expand its consume among the European elite.

However, when in 1662 the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza married to king Charles II of England, her habit of drinking tea became fashionable in the English court and she was responsible for the popularisation of its consume in England. With the development of tea trade, in 1676 the Portuguese used their trading post of Macao, founded back in 1557, and their exclusive commerce with China for this activity. For some period Macao had an important role in tea trade, dominating the European and Asian markets, until China opened the contact to other traders in 1683. While the Dutch comercialised black tea (Bohea), the English and the Portuguese dealed with green tea (Singlo). The habit of drinking tea was well established in the Portuguese court in the 18 century. During the stay of William Beckford in Portugal in 1787, he wrote a series of letters revealing the frequence and role of drinking tea as a social gathering of the court. In 1750 the Portuguese tried in the Azores, in São Miguel island, the cultivation of tea. However, only in 1878 when two Chinese experts from Macao came to São Miguel the production of tea was properly established in the Azores with the foundation of the Gorreana factory in 1883. The Gorreana tea became the first and the only tea produced in Europe, also with an organic process due to the natural conditions of the island.

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