Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Charleston Tea Plantation: America's Tea Garden

Charleston Tea Plantation, America's only Tea Garden

You don't have to travel to India or China to experience a real tea plantation. For those of us who live in the continental US, you can actually drive to the Charleston Tea Plantaion - which is exactly what we did this past April.

Charleston Tea Plantation is located on American Classic Tea Lane

The Charleston Tea Plantation is a working tea farm that thrives in the warm and humid climate of Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. What struck me from our first turn into the winding road entering the tea plantation (on American Classic Tea Lane!) is that this is the REAL thing. It's not a glitzy, theme-park version of a tea farm - its a genuine plantation and its beauty and allure comes from the acres of camellia sinensis which  flourishes in an environment of care and respect.

A real working tea farm, it's beautiful and educational

This plantation has its roots, quite literally, dating back to 1799, from tea plants brought from China to Charleston. Initially meant for ornamentation, the climate was so perfect for the tea plants, it spurred the development of many tea farms. The most successful was Pinehurst Tea Plantation, which ran from 1888 through 1915. When it dissolved, many of its tea plants were transported to Wadmalaw Island.

You can visit a real tea plantation without traveling too far

Almost one hundred years after the Pinehurst Tea Plantation started, William ("Bill") Barclay Hall, a third generation tea taster, launched the Charleston Tea Plantation in 1987. In 2003, Bill partnered with his friend Lori Bigelow and the Bigelow family are now owners of the  plantation.

Hedgerows of tea, ready for the next harvest (flush)

This is an absolute must-see place to visit if you are a tea enthusiast at any level. It's a chance to learn about the basics of tea (or a refresher for long-time tea lovers). You'll see how tea is grown, harvested, processed and sorted.

The four  main stops for guests at the Charleston Plantation are:

  • the factory tour,
  • the trolley tour, 
  • the delightful gift shop,
  •  and a kiss with a frog (even if you have found your Prince Charming).  

The Bigelows (now owners) provide intro to tour via TV screens

Beginning with the factory tour,  David and Eunice Bigelow greet guests on big screen TV's along the automated tour of the small, but mighty, processing facility.

Chris (aka Prince Charming) points to the Withering Bed

You'll see a withering bed, the roto-vane machine and the oxidation bed, the latter which determines whether the tea becomes black or green.

Next up Trolley Tour of the plantation.

Next up, the Trolley Tour of the farm. In a vintage trolley car, visitors are exposed to acres upon acres of tea plants. Our tour guide explained the growing cycles ("flushes") of the "two leaves and a bud", as we sampled some tea products while traveling  through the many hedgerows of camellia sinensis,

Our tour guide shows us the "two leaves and a bud".

Sampling hand lotion on the tour (made with tea!)

We stopped at the green house where we not only saw new plants being cultivated but also a quick wave from Bill Hall himself!

Bill Hall (far right corner) checks on plants in the greenhouse

Back at the gift shop, guests can sample teas as they shop the many tea and tea-related items on display. I bought lots of tea, including my absolute new favorite of the American Classic Tea brand, Governor Gray.  (It's an Earl Gray-type of tea, but not overly citrus-y and very smooth.)

Free samples of tea are provided.

Many American Classic Tea varieties to choose from.

Tea and tea-related merchandise also on sale in the delightful gift shop.

I also bought some books and hand cream.

I've found my Prince Charming, but still up for kissing this frog. Hello, Waddy!

Of course, the visit wasn't complete without a kiss with Waddy, the frog in residence since 2013. He sits on the expansive front porch, with cup in hand, ready for photo-ops and selfies.

Charleston Tea Plantation has deep roots.

The Charleston Tea Plantation is a wonderful place to visit, a chance to see a real tea plantation in the US.  Beautiful and enriching, it truly is "America's Tea Garden".

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