The Charleston Tea Plantation, located on Wadmalaw Island in the lowcountry of South Carolina, is the only working tea plantation in the United States. Growing over 320 varieties of the Camellia Sinensis plant (originally brought over from China in the 1700’s), the tea garden produces both black and green teas.
Despite their deliciously libacious start in China, the plants didn’t successfully produce tea here until 1888, when Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina. But when Shepard died in 1915, his formerly award-winning tea bushes grew wild. It wasn’t until 1968 that the bushes were transplanted and took hold on a former potato farm on Wadmalaw Island, transforming the land into a place for experimental tea research. In 1987, a third-generation tea taster named William Barclay Hall purchased the land and converted it from a research and development property into a commercial business. The Charleston Tea Plantation was born.
The Bigelow family joined the operation in 2003, although the teas produced on the Charleston Tea Plantation only go into the American Classic Tea brand and none of Bigelow’s other lines (leaves for those teas are all imported).
Some farm-fresh tea facts:
- Although herbs that are turned into tea (such as chamomile, mint, ginger, ginseng, roobois, etc) – any infusion made from anything besides the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant – are currently farmed in the US, the Charleston Tea Plantation is the “only tea grown and produced in America.” It’s the only tea – Camellia Sinensis – farm in the US
- Black, oolong and green teas are all made from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. The color of the tea is determined by length of exposure to oxygen during production
- Black tea requires 50 minutes of oxidization
- Oolong tea takes 15 minutes of oxidization
- Green tea takes no oxidization at all. Tea leaves are immediately steamed to prevent oxidization from occurring
- Camellia Sinensis can live for hundreds of years. In fact, there is documentation of plants 600 years or older – and they’re still producing tea
- All Camellia Sinensis plants are kept at the same height, world-wide. This is because the leaves are harvested from the top (interior and side leaves are too “woody” and produce a bitter, undrinkable tea), and the height is the perfect level for human harvesting
- Charleston Camellia Sinensis is naturally insect repellent
- 5 pounds of fresh tea becomes 1 pound of dried tea
- There are about 45 leaves in one American Classic tea bag
Next time you happen to be in or around Charleston, SC, enjoy the amazing Southern food – and head out to the Charleston Tea Plantation for an ice cold glass of American history.