The Charleston Tea Plantation, the only commercial tea plantation in North America, is in production again and is also welcoming visitors again to see how the tea is processed. The R.C. Bigelow Company purchased the plantation at auction in 2003 after financial woes forced the plantation to suspend operations for over a year.
The plantation is located on Wadmalaw Island, about 20 miles west of Charleston, South Carolina. Visitors are now able to take a tour of the production building, where large-screen monitors explain how tea is processed from green leaves to finished product. (Tea is harvested from late April through October, with the harvester gathering in a day what it would take 500 laborers to do by hand - visitors will still be welcome in off season.) There's also a new gift shop selling tea specialty items. Eventually, the Bigelow family hopes to add a restaurant.
The existing crops on Wadmalaw descend from plants imported from Asia about 200 years ago. It is believed the earliest batch in Charleston arrived about 1799 for use as ornamental shrubs at what is now Middleton Place. The first successful effort to grow tea commercially took place between 1888 and 1915 at Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville. In later years, the tea was sold under the American Classic brand.
American Classic Tea is a high-quality black tea with a mild tone and sweet flavor. The tea will now be sold in Piggly-Wiggly, Publix and Harris-Teeter.
Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.charlestonteagardens.com or call (843) 559-0383.