Wednesday, March 6, 2013

America's Own Tea Plantation

Did you know tea is grown in the United States? No? Well, neither did I.

Tea plants (Camellia Sinensis) at Charleston Tea Plantation.
During my recent visit to Charleston, S.C., I learned about the Charleston Tea Plantation, located about twenty miles south of the city, on Wadmalaw Island, in the heart of South Carolina's Low-country.  The grounds include 127 acres of Camellia Sinensis tea plants. It is the only working tea plantation in the United States.

While there wasn’t enough time to visit the tea plantation, I did try two of the teas, as my cousin Henrietta had a supply on hand. She sent bags home with me, to enjoy until I can place an order.

The two Charleston Tea Plantation teas I brought home with me.

I can report that the tea is quite nice, especially the green tea. While I’ve never been particularly fond of the taste of green tea -- but suffer it for the health benefits -- I do like this one. It is smooth and without the “bite” of many green teas I have tried.

The tea plantation is owned by the Bigelow Tea Company and sells it under the brand name American Classic Tea.

The history of the plantation is quite interesting. In 1799, French botanist Francois Andre Michaux brought the Camellia Sinensis plant to the United States and gave it to Henry Middleton, who planted it at his plantation. While the tea plant seemed to thrive in areas like Charleston and Georgetown, it took many attempts by multiple companies and individuals to successfully establish a tea company without an early failure.

These failures included plantations in Georgetown, Greenville, and Summerville, the longest of which lasted less than twenty years. The Thomas J Lipton Company decided to give it a try and in 1960, bought the failing tea plantation in Summerville. In 1963 they moved out to Wadmalaw Island and operated a research station for about twenty-five years.

The Charleston Tea Plantation, as it is known today, was established in 1987 when Mack Fleming and Bill Barclay Hall bought the land and the research station from the Lipton Company. Mack Fleming, a horticultural professor at Trident Technical College (South Carolina), had been running the plantation for the Lipton Company, while Bill Hall was a third generation tea tester from England.

Along with establishing the plantation, they created the American Classic Tea brand. The brand continued even though the Fleming-Hall partnership did not last past 2003. The plantation was auctioned off and the R.C. Bigelow Company in Connecticut bought it. Hall joined Bigelow at the plantation and keeps it running and growing the tea to sell across the United States.

Wadmalaw Island provides the perfect environment for propagating tea. With its sandy soils, sub-tropical climate and average rainfall of 52 inches per year, Wadmalaw possess idyllic conditions for the Camellia Sinensis plant, which is in the same botanical as the beautiful flowing Camellias seen in abundance around Charleston. This plant is currently used to produce both black and green teas and exists in over 320 varieties, according to the company’s Website.

If I get back to Charleston I would like to visit the tea plantation --  to view the acres of tea plants visible for as far as the eye can see and learn how tea is processed.

The plantation sponsors a First Flush Tea Festival annually to mark the beginning of the tea harvesting season. The name, First Flush, means the new leaves are beginning to grow on the tea plant bushes and are ready to be harvested for production. 

The teas are available in both loose-leaf and tea bag form and may be be ordered at the company's website.

(All photos above, unless otherwise noted, are from the company's website.)

For those of us in the USA wanting to reduce the carbon footprint of the items we purchase, wouldn't it make sense to buy this tea instead of buying those produced on the other side of the globe?


  1. i had no idea! that's something i'll have to try.

    i'm surprised it's not available in stores since it's a domestic product. you'd think savings on shipping alone would make it worth stocking.

    1. One would think so! At the company's website there's a link to the locations nationwide where the tea is sold. You can also order directly from the company.

    2. no outlets here in memphis. maybe they'll come here eventually. i'll have to look over their products and decide what to order from the website.

  2. I had no idea about this and I am going to try it...thank you Sanda

    1. I was quite surprised to learn that tea is raised/harvested here in the USA!

  3. You have given me another bit of new information. If the tea is now under the Bigelow brand I wonder if it is/will be available in stores. Certainly other Bigelow teas are. I would like to try it.


    1. Good question. I read in the company's FAQs that the two are separate lines, even though American Classic Tea is owned by Bigelow. Perhaps each is marketed separately and would explain why the places I see the Bigelow brand sold does not carry the American Classic brand.

  4. Very interesting. I too wish we could have worked this into our busy schedule - maybe next time! Maybe I'll try this green tea - there must be one that tastes good out there. If the plant resembles the flowering camellia at all, it must be great!


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