Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Perfect Cup of Camellia

Did you know that tea (the tea plant, of that lovely cup of green or black tea you might drink for health or enjoyment reasons) is grown in only one place in the United States?

Did you know that a tea plant (Camellia sinensis var. sinesis, meaning "Chinese Camellia") can live up to 400 years and still be productive?  Did you know that green, black and oolong tea all come from the same plant - that it is the processing after harvesting that determines which of the three types that the harvest will end up as?

On Wadmalaw Island, a relatively undeveloped island (and kept that way on purpose by the proud natives) in Charleston County, South Carolina lies this country's only tea plantation, the Charleston Tea Plantation, home of  American Classic Tea.

We were greeted by a woman who spoke with a distinct accent from "the other side of the pond" - what a perfect touch.

These are the tea plants, which are only now waking up from their winter dormancy.  In late fall and early winter, they bloom (small white flowers with yellow centers, smaller than your normal camellia flower) and then go dormant.  The first harvest will be given away at a special "First Flush" festival (they hope to get Willie Nelson for the 2012 festival), and then about 8 more harvests will be taken at 20 day intervals.
 The tea plants are propagated right at the plantation, in special climate controlled greenhouses.  Tea plants are very particular about the exact conditions they grow in, including when they are young.

Charleston has all the needed conditions for growth:  heat, humidity and drainage.

Most tea is grown on hillsides, we were told, for drainage not because they must grow on hills.  Since the American Classics plantation is flat, machines can be used to harvest.

At the end of the tour is:  tea time!  All the tea we could drink, both iced (sweet and unsweet) and hot. 

Just down the road is a distillery that makes sweet tea vodka from that same tea, but that is a post for another day.....

1 comment:

  1. Yes! We visited this tea plantation a couple of years ago, enjoying its unique status as America's only. Very good tea & nicely done brief informative tour.

    (The young adults with us were decidedly entertained by DH's over-the-top dramatic reading of the explanatory brochure on the scenic drive there, complete with repeated "Wad-mah-LAHHH" mispronunciations - still cracks them up at family gatherings)

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