The history of tea in the United States is as old as the nation itself, with one of the key events of the American Revolution being the Boston Tea Party, a 1773 act of defiance by colonists.
Although coffee is now the caffeinated beverage of choice for most Americans, the country still consumed 3.8 billion gallons of tea in 2017, according to the Tea Association of the USA.But there’s only one destination where tea is grown commercially in the United States. The Charleston Tea Plantation is on 127 acres of Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina.
In 1963, the Lipton tea company bought the former potato farm and transplanted untended tea plants that had once been cultivated in nearby Summerville, South Carolina, to the land. For Lipton, this was considered a research farm.
William Barclay Hall bought the property from Lipton in 1987. It was Hall who sought to make it a commercial producer. The Bigelow Tea Company partnered with Hall in 2003 and purchased the plantation.
Tea can be grown anywhere that is warm and humid with lots of rainfall and drainage.
It could be grown in much of the US South, but it has never been commercially cultivated because tea has traditionally been harvested by hand. Asian and African producers using hand-picked leaves have long dominated the market.At Charleston Tea Plantation, they use a machine harvester to cut the leaves off of the plants.
“Every country has its own sort of flavor,” Hall says. “It’s a very light, bright, a very smooth and mellow tea that we produce here.”
He should know; he’s one of only a few remaining trained tea tasters in the United States.
Hall’s grandfather was an English tea taster and trader who moved to Canada. Hall’s father also became a tea taster, and Hall trained on a four-year apprenticeship in England to become a tea taster himself.
He worked in the tea-trading industry for years until he came upon the idea of buying the Wadmalaw Island tea plantation.
Tea enthusiasts can see the whole process of tea-making at the plantation. All tea comes from the plant Camellia sinensis, the leaves of which are harvested to make tea.