Most of the world’s tea is produced far from our borders in countries like India, Sri Lanka, China, and Kenya. But if you’re looking to visit a working tea plantation without updating your passport, look no further than South Carolina, where the Charleston Tea Plantation churns out the good stuff on its 127-acre property.
Located on Wadmalaw Island a few miles south of Charleston, the Charleston Tea Plantation has been in operation since 1987, but its history dates back to the 1700s, when tea plants first came to the United States. No one had much success growing tea in the USA until Charles Shepherd launched a tea plantation in South Carolina in the late 19th century. South Carolina’s sub-tropical climate and plentiful rainfall made the endeavor a success. When Shepherd passed away in 1915, his tea plants continued to grow in the wild for decades. In 1963, the tea plants were uprooted and replanted on an experimental farm located on Wadmalaw Island. 24 years later, William Barclay Hall purchased the property, and, putting his years as a tea-taster and the knowledge he gained as a tea apprentice in London to use, turned the land into a commercial farm. He renamed it the Charleston Tea Plantation and grew his own brand called American Classic Tea for the next 16 years. Then in 2003, he sold the property to Big Tea operator Bigelow Tea, but continues to work with the tea plantation to this day. It is the only tea plantation in North America.
The Charleston Tea Plantation grows tea with leaves that are larger than typical, creating a product that boasts a rich and smooth taste. The plantation doesn’t use any pesticides in its harvesting process, and its irrigation system relies only on rainwater and pond water to promote plant growth. The plantation’s commitment to environmentally conscious processes continues with its use of plant waste—such as stems—for mulch.
When you visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation, you can enjoy a free tour of the factory or a $10 trolley
ride around the grounds, where you’ll visit the farm’s greenhouse. In the gift shop, you can taste and purchase American Classic Tea teabags, loose leaf tea tins, bottled teas, and tea-based body products.
Depending on the season, your visit will coincide with a different part of the harvesting schedule. The plantation’s harvest season commences in May and continues through the summer. Harvesting ends in late September or early October, when the tea plants begin to bloom, showing off their beautiful white petals and yellow stamens. The plants sleep during the winter, but the factory and farm remain open to the public for education and shopping.
Growing interest in tea has encouraged more American farmers to start growing tea plants, but the Charleston Tea Plantation remains the oldest, most historic plantation in the country.
Plan your visit today!
The Charleston Tea Plantation
6617 Maybank Highway
Charleston, South Carolina 29487
Monday-Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4 PM | Sunday, 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Cover Image via Instagram