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The Rise of Tea Plants in the United States

April 25, 2017

For a long time, the Charleston Tea Plantation was the only commercial tea producer in the United States. But as Americans drink more tea, leaning into foreign flavors like matcha and trends like nitro tea, American farmers want to get in on the movement. And they’re doing so, according to NPR, who reports that the United States now has 60 producers growing tea in 15 states.

Minto Island Tea Company Farm

Tea grows at the Minto Island Tea Company’s farm in Salem, Oregon. | LINK

With many Americans wanting to “Buy American” and support their local economies, growing tea here in the United States made sense to farmers.

Tea grower Elizabeth Miller told NPR, “It’s the energy and enthusiasm from consumers that’s propelling us forward. People are really excited to have tea that is U.S. grown.”

As the number of tea growers increased, there was enough demand to from The United States League of Tea Growers, which strives to connect US tea growers and promote the industry by sharing knowledge and launching initiatives like tea-based agri-tourism.

And tea plants aren’t just growing in the south, like you might expect, where a mild climate with sufficient rain makes growing camellia sinensis most auspicious. Rather, farmers in northern states like Michigan and Oregon are starting tea farms as well.

Here is a list of American tea farms to consider supporting:

Minto Island Growers | Salem, Oregon | www.mintoislandtea.com

The Minto Island Growers have been planting camellia sinensis since 1988. Their teas are certified organic, handpicked, and harvested in small-batches. The farmers grow green, oolong, and black teas.

The Great Mississippi Tea Company | Brookhaven, Mississippi | www.greatmsteacompany.com

The Great Mississippi Tea Company strives to be an example of fair labor and environmental practices. The company began by planting 30,000 tea plants on 5 acres of land in 2014.

Table Rock Tea Company | Pickens, South Carolina | http://www.tablerocktea.com

This South Carolina tea grower got things started with just 400 tea plants in 2009, but has much bigger plans: The company planted 7,000 tea plants last year, and plans to add 17,500 plants per year for the next few years. The company’s products include Jacked Black Original Black Tea and Hillbilly Yaupon. Table Rock was a 2016 finalist for the “Best Tea Brand” award at the World Tea Awards. 10% of all sales go to charity.

Piedmont Tea Company | Athens, Georgia | www.piedmonttea.com

This new, organic tea company launched in 2014 under Tygh Walters, who also serves as the President of the US League of Tea Growers

Sakuma Brothers Premium Teas | Skagit Valley, Washington | http://sakumamarketstand.com

Brothers Richard and Steve Sakuma decided to add tea plants to their berry farm in Washington in 2007. They planted tea over five acres, and have had their fair share of struggles planting tea in the cold Washington weather. Teas from the brothers have included green and oolong.

 

Since tea plants take three years to mature to the point that they can be harvested, we have not yet seen the fruits of many new producers’ labor. But as farmers get on the tea train, we’re sure to see more and more American-made tea products on the market in the coming years.

 

Tea Travel

Visit America’s Very Own Tea Plantation

March 16, 2017

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

 

HOURS:

Monday-Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4 PM | Sunday, 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM

www.charlestonteaplantation.com

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Cover Image via Instagram