Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Charleston Tea Plantation

One of the most impressive sights on this trip was a visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation. This is a working farm and the ONLY tea grown in North America. The sandy soil for good drainage, plenty of humid heat and rain made growing conditions perfect for tea. It took forever it seemed to find the place out on a tip of land. I was so excited and not disappointed for one minute. Small by farm measures, it is less than 200 acres. Originally, the land was used for watermelons and potato crops until 1960. Now the tea bushes are all trimmed and look more like a garden hedge than a farm crop. We were lucky enough to be there on a day when they were harvesting.

So we took the trolley ride out into the fields. The trolley had been a streetcar in Philadelphia at one time. The guide said that snakes are common there such as diamond backed, cottonmouths, and copperheads. No one had to tell me to stay seated and on that trolley! The harvesting equipment is a unique as the crop. Elsewhere tea is handpicked, but here parts of a tobacco harvester and a cotton harvester were put together to create a new machine for harvesting tea. This harvester is fondly called the Green Giant.
Once we had taken the outside tour, we went inside to view how the picked tea was handled. Again, machinery was interesting. One could linger as long as they liked watching tea being dried, cut, and bundled. This tea is sold under the label of American Classic and available right now only in South Carolina. Although affiliated with Bigelow tea, it is never mixed with Bigelow in anyway. They are always sold separately, as Bigelow tea is imported from elsewhere.

There is a small gift shop and tasting area. I was thirsty so the iced peach flavor was a hit with me. I carted a bag of it back to Missouri! The setting was lovely that day with perfect temperatures for sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch. I did not want to leave, but after a picnic lunch and wonderful visit to this tea plantation, we moved on into Charleston.

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