When we were in Charleston last week it was really hot. I nagged my husband to stop for drinks every hour or so and I soon found a favorite local beverage–American Classic Sweet Tea. Normally I’m not big on sweet tea because it is so sweet, but this was perfectly sweetened. And then we discovered that, hey, this tea is grown right outside of Charleston!
Tea in Charleston? Yes! The Charleston Tea Plantation is located on Wadmalaw Island, a short drive from the city. And guess what else? It’s open to visitors! Since we had some spare time before heading to Savannah, we decided to visit the plantation and find out how tea is made. And boy, was I excited! Probably more excited than any reasonable person would be. I do love me some tea.
There aren’t many places in the United States that are hospitable to growing tea, which is probably why the Charleston Tea Plantation is the only tea plantation in the country. The sandy soil, sub-tropical climate, and rainfall on Wadmalaw Island are perfectly suited to the cultivation of Camellia Sinensis, or the tea plant. (Oh, and did you know that the flavor of tea comes from the soil it’s grown in? Camellia Sinensis grown in China has different nuances of flavor than Camellia Sinensis grown here in the US.)
American Classic Teas are completely natural and the Charleston Tea Plantation uses no herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides in tea production. There’s no need for any of these because not much bothers the tea plant! The plants themselves look like bushes. Only the uppermost leaves are harvested, by a machine that lops off the tops of the bushes. The leaves are brought to the on-site factory–all of the American Classic Teas are made right on the Plantation. Green, black, and oolong tea are all made from the same plant (the only difference is how they’re processed), so the Plantation produces both green and black teas in various flavors. I had always thought that black and green tea was flavored with little bits of fruits and herbs, but that’s not the case! Tea leaves and natural essential oils are combined in a tumbler for several hours to infuse the leaves with flavor.
After the tour of the Plantation, we left with several boxes and bottles of tea. And being that it’s still a zillion degrees out, hot tea was out of the question, so when we got home, I brewed a big pitcher of iced black tea that we bought on our visit. As you know, I have an aversion to plain ice cubes, so I made some Honey Lemon Ginger Ice Cubes with Savannah Honey from the Savannah Bee Company. Between the Savannah Honey and the Charleston Tea, it was like being on vacation again. (And yes, I am totally ready to go on vacation again.)