This Tour is My Cup of Tea
I learned a lot about tea last Friday afternoon at The Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, SC.
Now, in January, the tea plants are winter-dormant wearing a light green, slightly yellow color. From April until October the plants are a vibrant and lush green. The small new leaves are harvested from the tops of the plants every 18-20 days. One section of the field is done each day on rotation. They flush rapidly, thriving in the heat and the ample rainfall of 1” a week, or 52” a year. If rainfall is short, water from the ponds are transferred to the fields. Drainage ditches and the sandy soil prevent soggy roots. The tap root of the mature plant is deeper than the 5-foot water table, making this a very hardy plant. Plants known to be 600 years old are still producing healthy tea leaves. These particular plants came from China more than 100 years ago. New plants are started from cuttings and kept in a computer-automated greenhouse at 65-85 degrees, 90% humidity. The plants are transferred to the outside after 8 months, where they are hardened off and watered with a drip line.
In addition to being weather hardy, the tea plants are also disease resistant, insect resistant, and have no predators. Deer and rabbit sleep among the hedges of tea, but they don’t eat them. No pesticides, herbicides or chemicals of any kind are used in the growing, harvesting or processing of tea.
As you can see in the picture, the plants are kept at a relatively low height. Traditionally, tea is harvested by hand and since the new leaves are taken only from the top, they must be at the pickers’ height. Here on Wadmalaw Island, a machine called “Green Giant” does the harvesting. This is the only machine in North America. It does the work of 500 field hands and enables the Charleston Tea Plantation to be economically competitive.
The factory is also automated and the entire four-step process is completed by one factory worker. The drying process changes the green leaves to brown. Black tea, Oolong tea, and Green tea, are all the same plant. The amount of oxidation during the processing determines the color and strength and which kind of tea it will be. Fifty minutes of oxidation produces Black tea; 15 minutes produces Oolong. With zero oxidation, it’s Green tea. The stems, stalks, and other fibers are sieved away and returned to the soil as nutrients. Five pounds of fresh tea is reduced to one pound of packaged tea. Thirty four countries in the world produce tea, but The Charleston Tea Plantation, the home of American Classic Tea, is the only tea garden in North America. The Bigelow Tea Company has recently partnered with Charleston Tea to begin world-wide distribution of American Classic Tea, from the heart of South Carolina’s Low Country. I also learned:
How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea
Using Loose Tea
Step 1. Use fresh, cold water. Bring to a good rolling boil.
Step 2. Measure 1 teaspoon of tea per cup.
Step 3. Pour boiling water over the tea. NEVER add tea to the hot water.
Step 4. Brew to desired strength, approximately 2-6 minutes.
If you visit the Sea Islands, or Charleston, SC, this is a very enjoyable tour. Amazing what one can learn while on the road selling books!