Charleston, South Carolina, welcomes thousands of visitors every year. The City Market, plantations, and the riverfront are popular tourist attractions. If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind unique experience in North America though, take time to visit the Charleston Tea Plantation located on Wadmalaw Island. It is a short scenic drive from the busy city.
If you are fortunate enough to visit the plantation in April or May at the time of the First Flush (the first cutting done after the plants have awakened from being dormant), you will have the opportunity to taste a tea with a unique flavor. This tea is only available once each growing season.
For a small fee, you can take a trolley ride around the plantation providing you an up-close view of the tea bushes and the history of the plantation. The trolley is available January through December, but only during the harvesting months, April through October, will you see the “green giant” and the workers busy in the fields. The “green giant” is a blend between a cotton picker and a tobacco harvester and is the only one of its kind in existence. The “green giant” cuts off the tops of the bushes and collects the leaves, doing the job of 500 laborers. The plantation prides itself in not using pesticides or any chemicals.
Inside walking tours of the processing plant are available throughout the year. If you visit during the harvesting months, you can see the leaves going through the processing steps. The first step in processing the leaves is placing them on the withering bed. Then, they are put through the Rotor-Vane where the leaves are torn into tiny pieces and crushed. Fermentation, also referred to as oxidation, is the third step for making black tea. After 50 minutes this step is complete. Green tea is not fermented. After oxidation, the leaves fall from the bed to a moving belt where they go into a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes. After drying, the shriveled leaves pass across various size screens where they are sifted to ensure all stalks and fibers are removed. To remove the tiniest impurities, the leaves pass under static electricity rollers.
The plant nursery is open year-round to visitors. Here new 5-inch plants, created from existing bushes on the plantation, are treated with tender loving care. It takes five years for each plant to reach maturity. Once mature, each bush will be productive for hundreds of years.
Hot and cold tea are available in the gift shop for sampling. There are several flavors available and you will want to taste them all before deciding the ones you want to take home to enjoy with friends. The American Classic, which can still be purchased today, was the original tea produced on the plantation. It was the first tea ever to be made with 100 percent tea grown in America. It can be said with confidence, “this tea is American made.”
So, on your next trip to Charleston, take time to taste the tea, Charleston Plantation Tea that is!
Tea A Brief History and More by David Bigelow