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The Charleston Tea Plantation

It is an extremely uncommon occurrence for an entire farm of the tea plant to be found anywhere in North America. However, a small marshy island about 30 minutes outside of Charleston, South Carolina has been able to make this crop thrive. It took a couple locations and a few good tries to get the camellia sinensis plant to take off, but it was finally able to and has been growing in Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina for over the past 100 years.

I had the opportunity to visit this tea plantation a couple weeks ago, and it was a very educational experience for me. I know a lot about tea, the places it is grown, and the process it generally goes through in these global locations, but I knew nothing about the American tea process. Luckily, this tea plantation is open to the public and gives tours of their tea-processing factory and a (very bumpy) trolley tour of the farm.

The tea factory is somewhat limited in their operations; therefore at this time they process and distribute Green, Oolong, and Black teas, however no White tea. There are windows so you can see each piece of processing equipment and if they had been processing tea leaves at the time, you would have been able to see that in action too.

The tea plantation itself has over 127 acres of over 2,000 tea plants and continues to grow as often as they are able to put new plants in the ground. Instead of growing these tea bushes from seedlings, they allow one row of plants to grow a few weeks longer than those around them, clip about 4-6 inches off of the top, and then re-distribute those smaller plants into a greenhouse for a few months. Once these small tea plants have become strong and sturdy enough, they are then moved out into the next row in the tea planation; this process provides a very high survival rate for these plants. Then the plant itself will be ready to harvest in the next four to six years.

The unique process of these American tea plants starts with the plant itself. They were brought back over 250 years ago from China and India and actually started about 30 miles from where they are today. They have 3 ponds on the property that circulate water and help to hydrate the hundreds of thousands of tea plants. The plants are placed with ditches dug around rows to help rid the roots of any extra water.

There is also a very unique piece of tea harvesting equipment on the property, it is the only one in North America and is uniquely American because it was inspired by and is a cross between a cotton and tobacco harvester. Starting in spring, 7-10 times a year this machine is driven over the tea crops cutting the top 4 inches, which is then sorted, sifted, and processed into the different types of teas.

The process that these tea leaves go through on the Charleston Tea Plantation creates a very specific flavor that is quite unique to traditionally American (southern) style teas and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. If you are an avid tea drinker, or at least like it a little and live close enough, I would highly recommend this experience to you.

Source: Charleston Tea Plantation, Wadmalaw Island, SC, www.charlestonteaplantation.com
DVD – Charleston Tea Plantation: Explore the World of Tea, Presented by Bigelow Tea.

Kelley Scruby is the owner of ? in Hoboken, New Jersey. As the owner of a small, loose leaf tea business, Kelley is passionate about educating her customers on the benefits that come from drinking loose leaf tea. With a background at a major tea company, she was able to become an expert on the versatility of the beverage and is inspired in her own creations by the changing of the seasons and also desserts. Kelley created Do You Tea? with the confidence that she can help find a tea blend that works for any of her customers’ lifestyle and palate. As Do You Tea? continues to grow, Kelley hosts events and tastings that add a more interactive approach to the expansive world of loose leaf teas. Do You Tea? hopes to have a truck out on the streets of the NYC metro area soon! You are able to purchase her seasonal blends and gift sets online at www.doyoutea.com and follow her on instagram and twitter @doyoutea for updates on tastings and new blends. Please email requests and questions to doyoutea@gmail.com.

The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.