South Carolina Picture Project
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Charleston Tea Plantation — Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina

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Charleston Tea Plantation

After water, tea is the most popular beverage on earth. People drink it far and wide, on every continent and in every country, and it’s often associated with such exotic locales as China, Kenya, India, and Peru. Thanks to a small farm on Wadmalaw Island, we can now add South Carolina to that list. The Charleston Tea Plantation, owned in part by the renowned R. C. Bigelow & Company, is the only place in North America that produces black tea commercially.

Tea Plantation

Jean Doepkens Wright of Doswell, VA, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Tea, South Carolina’s official state hospitality beverage,(1) has a long and colorful history in our state. In 1791(2), French botanist Andre Michaux brought the Camellia sinensis plant to his friend Henry Middleton, future governor and heir to Middleton Plantation in Dorchester County. Tea has since become a veritable staple in the Lowcountry, where the soil is sandy, the air is humid, and tropical temperatures prevail.

Tea Plantation Sign

SCIWAY, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Of course, this doesn’t mean growing tea in these parts has come easily. Farm after farm collapsed before finally – after nearly two centuries of trial – horticulturalist Mack Flemming and his partner William Hall claimed success with their brand, American Classic. Together the two men took over the former Lipton Research Station on Wadmalaw, cultivating cuttings from plants once grown at Pinehurst Tea Gardens in Summerville.

Charleston Tea Plantation Field

SCIWAY, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Interestingly, though Pinehurst ceased operations nearly a century ago and the land has long since been carved into neighborhoods, residents still find tea growing wild in their backyards. Because the plants have acclimated to our climate over time, their cuttings are stronger and more likely to survive than those from imported varieties.

Wadmalaw Tea Farm

Jean Doepkens Wright of Doswell, VA, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Fleming and Hall split their company several years ago, and Hall, a third-generation tea taster trained in England, approached the Bigelow family to help save the land from developers. Ruth Bigelow’s daughter flew down from Connecticut to bid on the plantation at auction, and its future was secured. Since 2003, Hall and Bigelow have managed the plantation jointly.

Charleston Tea Farm Trolley

SCIWAY, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The Charleston Tea Plantation is open to visitors who can view the factory, take a trolley tour of the fields, browse the gift shop, and best of all – sample the tea. After all, tea tastes best when it’s fresh, which gives a cup “born and brewed” in South Carolina a distinct advantage. Visitors can also attend the annual First Flush Festival in May, a large concert organized by the owners to celebrate their spring harvest. October is also a great month to visit the Charleston Tea Plantation. Butterflies abound along the coast this time of year, and the tea plants attract them by the hundreds with their small white blooms.

1. As opposed to milk, apparently our state’s official plain beverage!

2. Some sources give 1802 as an alternate date.

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5 Comments about Charleston Tea Plantation

SCIWAY says:
October 7th, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Thanks so much and good luck on your novel!

Michelle says:
October 7th, 2017 at 5:56 am

Best article I’ve seen so far on this plantation. I’m scouting locations for a novel and hope to learn more about the tea garden, it’s history, and people. Thanks.

Teresa says:
November 7th, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I wish to go to visit this place and try some cup of tea,
For me, will be the best time ever!
I wish we can try a cup of tea.
Best regards

Cera Osterhout says:
July 9th, 2016 at 11:33 pm

Went on this tour today. I was amazed about what I didn't know about tea. Great tour, highly recommend

Chris Logan says:
November 18th, 2010 at 9:33 am



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