Visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation // Wadmalaw Island // June 4, 2016[Curtis is assisting in writing this on his extended lunch rather than studying for tomorrow’s test]
So if you’ve been following the news, you may have heard that we were supposed to get hit by our second tropical storm in less than 2 weeks. Is this normal? Well, we got all sorts of warnings on Monday saying this is gonna be a big deal, but aside from raining a solid 12 hours straight from Monday morning till some time late Monday night, we got nothing. The most disappointing part was that there was talk of canceling school and they told the students to call this morning to see if they did, but alas, there was no flooding, so Curtis didn’t get a day off. Thanks for nothing, Colin.
Anyway, this post is about last weekend’s adventure! It’s getting harder for us to plan a weekend trip when: 1. The weather for the week has been utterly atrocious (last week was in the 80’s-90’s with high humidity and no relief), 2. We’ve already seen most of the major attractions within an hour’s drive. 3. We’re cheap, and most everything costs $20+ per person… and 3.5: Our go-to form of outdoor entertainment (letterboxing) has consistently failed us as of late (like seriously, we’re sitting at around a 65% success rate for boxes in SC, and have found an average of 5 boxes a month…compared to when we were living in AZ and were finding like 10 a week).
So when the weekend finally comes and we woke up to realize that it’s not THAT bad outside, we sort of draw a card from the deck and go with it. This weekend’s wild card was the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, South of Charleston. Being tea drinkers and wanting to gain a new appreciation for this area, we thought it would make for a pleasant weekend adventure.
The Charleston Tea Plantation is a one-of-a-kind American experience, and I mean that quite literally. This tea plantation is the only commercial (I’m sure there are some private individuals who grow tea) tea plantation in the US. There’s a fun sign there showing that the closest one is thousands of miles away in Guatemala. This plantation has its origins in the early 1800’s when plantation owners attempted to cultivate the crop as a cash crop. The coastal region would be ideal for tea growing with its hot and wet climate. Yet it wasn’t until 1888 before even a sustainable crop was established. At that time, a Dr. Charles Shepherd founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation near Summerville where he successfully harvested and manufactured tea for a number of years before his death in 1915.
When Dr. Shepherd died, so did the plantation, but not the tea. In 1963, Lipton decided to attempt an experimental tea plantation on Wadmalaw Island south of Charleston using Dr. Shepherd’s plants. Supposedly though, when the researchers went to find the Pinehurst plants, the tea had “gone native” growing over 15 ft tall and hybridizing.
Lipton operated on Wadmalaw for a number of years before William Barclay Hall, a professional tea taster, bought the plantation with intent to grow and sell the tea commercially. A local success, Hall joined up with the Bigelow Tea Company in 2003 and continue to operate successfully today. (So there you go – I guess some DO thrive in this hot and humid climate! I guess it’s good for something 😉 )
Today the plantation grows 8 specific varieties of tea plants (I believe all derivative of the Pinehurst plants) which form the blend for the American Classic Tea. All growing, harvesting, and processing take place on site before being shipped to the Bigelow plant for packaging. But it is ensured that only the Charleston Tea is ever used to produce the American Classic to ensure its originality. What’s more, all new plants are clones of the originals to ensure continuity of flavor.
Today you can visit the plantation and take a 10 minute factory tour for free. It’s literally just a one room operation, and you can see it all from behind the windows as the TV’s explain how this plantation got started and how it all works. We were really impressed with how much information given in such a short amount of time, so we decided taking the trolley tour would be worth it. The trolley tour runs through the plantation and costs $10 a person, and you can learn all about how tea is grown and processed. For example, tea leaves are taken from the new growth at the top of the plant, which, after first cutting, will take 20 days to regrow. So the plantation is divided into 20 plots and one plot is harvested (by a specially designed machine) every day until the cycle repeats. Each tea plant can be harvested 5 times during a typical summer. Again, we really enjoyed this tour – it was completely worth the price, and it’s always fun supporting a local business.
There’s plenty of really interesting information to learn for those interested. Plus, all the tea you can drink in the gift shop! It’s a one of a kind American experience. We don’t always like guided tours – we’re read it on our own and go at our own pace kind of tourists, but we thought these were really well done and absolutely worthy of a Saturday adventure. We definitely recommend visiting the tea plantation if you’re ever in the Charleston area!
Following our tour (and yet another failed letterbox. 64%) we decided to walk around downtown Charleston for a while and maybe grab a bite to eat. We never really leave with a plan when we go walking downtown because no matter which way you turn, you’ll always have a beautiful, historic, one-of-a-kind walk. Unfortunately, today it was ghastly hot and we both forgot our wallets in the car, so we just made a shorter loop, saw St. John’s Cathedral, (found a pretty terrible letterbox. 65%) and then headed back home. But not before stopping at a local restaurant in North Charleston – Sesame Burger. It came highly recommended by my colleagues and did not disappoint!
And that was our weekend! Thanks for stopping by!