This past fall, my family and I had the pleasure of touring the Charleston Tea Plantation. You read that right, BTW, Charleston – as in, South Carolina. Tea, being grown and packaged right here in the states. Our trip to Wadmalaw Island was my whim alone, as I assumed I was dragging my family out there. At the end of the day, we all agreed it was one of the absolute highlights of our trip to the Charleston area. My recommendation: It is a MUST SEE for tea worshipers.
One of the things you should know about the Charleston Tea Plantation – there is a HUGE retail tea store on the plantation. Which is, of course, free to visit anytime. They do sell their line of tea, but they also sell tea lovelies: teapots, tea cups, strainers, cozies, etc. Plus, as a delightful bonus, they have a tea bar that is free for the partaking while you shop – or while you tour the processing plant attached to the retail shop – for free! I admit to walking in the door and hearing tea angels singing.
The first stop for visitors is the retail shop. Even the front porch is fun – huge and comfortable with a whimsical tea drinking frog, and chalk boards to record location of visitors. Large enough to hold many waiting for the trolley, or to wait out the family while they shop if you are not quite as obsessed.
Once inside the front door, a beautiful, and spacious world of tea utopia takes your breath away. I had such trouble finding a place to start. My first inclination was to throw my keys back to the family and tell them to pick me up in a couple of days, because I was going to be awhile. Beyond the tea “things” that surround you, there is the tea bar – the two most glorious words I’ve ever heard – we seriously need more of these EVERYWHERE! Visitors are welcome to try every variety that they produce on the plantation – both hot and cold. It is encouraged to walk around with your tea sample while you shop or tour the processing factory which is attached to the retail area. A new tour of the processing plant begins every 15 minutes.
Touring the processing area is relaxing, incredibly educational, and beautiful. Watching the video introductions of each section while viewing the bright green of the newly plucked leaves is truly fascinating. This is the part of the experience where we hear the word “Bigelow” for the first time.
The tea processed at this stage is being harvested, dried, and packaged for a trip up to Connecticut where the Bigelow factory is located. They then take these large shipments of tea leaves, and package for retail sales, under the “Charleston Tea Plantation” brand. Apparently, it is cheaper to ship in bulk to Connecticut to package there, rather than build a new packaging facility on-site.
The zen-like peace of this plantation carried us further as we opted for the plantation tour via trolley. At $10 per person, it was very reasonable, and serves to complete the experience. Plan your trip accordingly to include the trolley – you won’t be disappointed!
Through this tour we learn a few valuable pieces of information.
1. Their tea is grown pesticide free.
2. This is the only tea growing farm in North America.
3. This plantation is owned by the Bigelow Tea Company, but the tea harvested at this plantation does NOT supply the Bigelow Company.
4. The Charleston Tea Plantation brand of teas is the only tea grown 100% in the United States.
5. Due to their commitment to growing pesticide free products, they will not sell a decaffeinated version of their teas. Why? Because the process to decaffeinate uses chemicals. They are happy to provide you with the recipe for naturally decaffeinating any tea with boiling water. (Link goes to an FAQ that includes the recipe.)
A few additional highlights:
The tour takes visitors past field after field of mature Camellia Sinensis plants, which are trimmed by a large green machine that harvests the tips of the plants for processing. In April and May, they feature a “first flush” harvest which is supposed to be the epitome of tea indulgence.
Another stop on the tour is the large greenhouse that nurtures young plants for sustained growth. If you’re lucky, the plants will be in bloom during your tour – something we witnessed during our tour in mid-September.
I cannot recommend this place enough! It was educational, culturally enriching, and a fantastic place to get loads of tea goodies. I confess to having come home with my first tea cozy! As a cat lover, this cat cozy was a no brainer. Even if you are in the area, and have no time for the full tour, the shop always awaits when in Charleston. Verdict: This is an experience all tea aficionados must try at least once. Takeaway: I don’t get to Charleston too often, but as a resource of locally grown and pesticide free tea, I will be ordering additional treats online as needed. Go ahead, give them a try! Shopping via the Bigelow website: http://www.bigelowtea.com/CharlestonTeaPlantation?page=2 OR at various retail locations found in 17 states: http://www.charlestonteaplantation.com/where-to-buy