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December 2009

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A Sip of History
Written By: 
Anna Evans
Photographs By: 
Christopher Nelson

Get a taste of Charleston’s tea-growing tradition


It’s no secret that the Lowcountry is rich with historical attractions—from the country’s oldest landscaped gardens (Middleton Place) to the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America (the Arthur Ravenel Jr.). But let’s not forget that we have a rather significant “only” in our midst: Charleston Tea Plantation, the lone tea garden in the United States.

Given that British colonists thoroughly steeped the Holy City in teatime tradition, this 127-acre Wadmalaw Island farm seems a fitting claim to fame, yet it’s largely undiscovered by locals. Visit on a winter day, and you’ll find sprawling fields lush with Camellia sinensis (tea is a camellia family member, blooms and all), which are harvested from May to October and made into American Classic Tea.

“The plants you’ll see date back to 1888,” says William Hall, a partner in the plantation. “That’s when Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville.” Shepard’s award-winning teas died with him in 1915, and his plants grew wild until the Lipton Tea Company transplanted them to an experimental farm in the early 1960s. “A partner and I bought that farm in 1987 and began making American Classic,” explains Hall, a third-generation tea taster. Six years ago, he joined forces with Bigelow Tea, who bought the company and set about enhancing the scenic locale’s visitor-friendly potential.

Today, you can drink in lessons in history and horticulture as you hop on a trolley tour through the fields, marvel at the “Green Giant” harvesting machine, and visit the factory. A cheery gift shop sells the five varieties of American Classic—which boast names like Rockville Raspberry, Charleston Breakfast, and Island Green—plus accessories galore. Pack a lunch to spread on one of the pond-side picnic tables, help yourself to all the free iced tea you can drink, and revel in your luck at living near such a singular attraction.

Charleston Tea Plantation is open year-round Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Visitors can tour the grounds and the factory for free; trolley rides are $10 per person. 6617 Maybank Hwy., Wadmalaw Island, (843) 559-0383, www.bigelowtea.com/plantation.aspx




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