The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only working tea farm in North America. The island is an ideal spot for growing tea because it provides just the right amount of warm temperatures, humidity and rain. The tea plants go dormant in the winter and, come spring, shoot up 3 to 5 inches of new growth. Those new shoots are removed for making tea and then more new shoots appear. In a season, one plant might produce seven to 10 cuttings.
The leaves are clipped and gathered with a harvester the plantation staff has dubbed the “Green Giant” before heading to the factory for the withering process. Through a process of oxidation, moisture is removed from the leaves. Whether you end up with black or green tea (the most popular varieties) depends on how long the leaves are exposed to oxygen. Black tea spends 50 minutes on the oxidation bed; green tea doesn’t spend any time there at all.
The tea leaves are finally placed into a dryer, having lost 97 percent of their moisture. The entire process from field to completion takes just 20 hours. But 5 pounds of leaves only creates 1 pound of finished tea. Guests can learn all the about the tea-making process as they walk through a complimentary video-guided factory tour where they can overlook the machinery and watch the oxidation and drying processes. A trolley tour of the 127-acre farm is available ($10 for adults; $5 children 12 and under). The tour guide offers fun facts on tea and the plantation, supplemented by a recorded narrative from William Barclay Hall, founder of American Classic Tea and professional tea taster.
Hall founded the plantation in 1987, establishing the American Classic Tea brand. In 2003, he partnered with the Bigelow Family but continues to oversee the daily operations at the plantation and the development of American Classic Tea – the only tea made from the Camellia Sinensis plants grown on the plantation. The recently expanded gift shop offers a variety of tea products and gifts, plus complimentary samples of tea from classic sweet tea to raspberry or mint teas. The Charleston Tea Plantation is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday (closed on major holidays).
Plan Your Visit:
Charleston Tea Plantation
6617 Maybank Highway
Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487