In our three-part series on Tea in America we’ve covered some of the many innovations America has contributed to the convenience of tea. We’ve discussed the accidental invention of the Teabag by NYC’s own Thomas Sullivan, as well as the creation of Iced Tea on a sweltering St. Louis summer day. Today, we’ll touch on another way in which America contributes to tea that is very close to me. We’ll take a trip back to my home outside of Charleston, South Carolina to see how U.S. Department of Agriculture’s experiment lead to what is truly an All-American Tea.
Gone to Carolina in my mind…
Tea plants thrive in tropical and subtropical climates, rooted in sandy soil and bathed in heat, humidity, and rain. There are vast acreages of ideal tea-growing land in countries that have traditionally provided the world’s tea-China, Japan, and India. As luck would have it, most of the state of South Carolina enjoys a small pocket of similar conditions. Almost 4,000 miles away from the next tea plantation, the Charleston Tea Plantation is not just the only tea plantation in the U.S., but in all of North America.
Located in the “Lowcountry” on Wadmalaw Island about 20 minutes outside of Charleston, SC, the Charleston Tea Plantation has been growing and processing America’s only tea since 1960. With over 125 acres of tea (that’s several hundred thousand tea plants!) the main product is a mild, subtly sweet black tea known as American Classic tea. This tea is perfect for what we Southerners refer to as “Sweet tea” – an iced black tea with a generous helping of sweetener.
And it couldn’t get any more American than this: since 1987, American Classic tea has been the official tea of the White House. The Charleston Tea Plantation is still thriving today under the new ownership of my friends at Bigelow Tea. In fact, in the next few weeks they will be holding their First Flush Celebration, complete with “tea trolley” rides!
When it comes to convenience, it couldn’t get any more convenient than having it right in your back yard. In fact, this All-American contribution to tea was one of the reasons that this Tea Sommelier got into the business. Growing up in South Carolina, around so much tea, it was practically in my blood. When I discovered that most folks in the U.S. didn’t know the next thing about the drink I enjoyed on practically an hourly basis, my mission became clear: bring tea back to America and sing its praises. To give tea a voice and let it be heard through as many ways as possible.
Lofty goals, but great tea.