I remember many years ago, when I was first becoming interested in tea, I picked up a copy of Tea magazine that had an article about the Charleston Tea Plantation – “America’s Only Tea Plantation.” I was so excited to learn that my rapidly increasing obsession had successfully been produced here in the US! I immediately added a trip to that plantation to my list of ‘must visit places.’ That was more than 7 years ago, and today, I fulfilled that dream.
The Charleston Tea Plantation, while no longer America’s ONLY tea plantation, was the first, and that is truly very special. It’s located about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston on Wadmalaw Island. The tropical-style weather of heat, humidity and lots of rain, makes it an ideal growing location for tea.
The plantation offers a self-guided video tour through the factory where you can look down on the machines from large windows above. The process is in stark contrast to the harvesting and oxidation methods of smaller tea gardens in Asia; as it is fully automated rarely being touched by human hands once it has been harvested. I tend to lean toward more natural methods of food production in my preferences believing that nothing can replace the element of human involvement; but the system works for them. They’ve dubbed their teas “American Classic Tea.”
The highlight of the visit was the trolley ride through the tea fields themselves. Not only do you get to hear the history of how the tea plant arrived there, how it is harvested, and other fun facts, but you get to make a stop in the green house to see the new plants being cultivated from cuttings off the large ones. Seeing the process and the plants close up really gives you a new understanding and appreciation for the second most consumed beverage on the planet.
The lovely gift shop is full of southern hospitality where you can enjoy all the hot tea, cold tea, and sweet tea you can consume for free. Enjoying your ice cold sweet tea and gazing at the tea fields from one of the wooden rockers on their porch, you can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into the pages of a classic American story…another page in the global history of this phenomenal plant.
While you're in South Carolina, make sure to try their Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. I enjoyed it mixed with lemonade, but there are a few different ways to enjoy it, so ask for your server or bartender's recommendation!
Dezerai Seitzer is the owner and founder of Global Teas, a retail line of tea that gives people the opportunity to help change lives by donating $1 from every pouch of tea sold to a non-profit organization.