South Carolina Tea Is an American Success Story

By Patricia B. Mitchell, 1991.

Books on This Topic Suited to a Tea Victorian Parlors and Tea Parties

Tea, “the cup that cheers but does not inebriate,” has been popular in the United States since the 1700's. It even played an important part in American history when zealous Bostonians masquerading as Indians dumped crates of the import into the harbor rather than pay exorbitant British taxes on the commodity. At that point many patriots switched to coffee, but gradually tea devotees re-surfaced, or, in my case, were born.

Nowadays we can purchase bag tea or instant, as well as the loose tea our ancestors knew. We can also select decaffinated tea (not to mention the myraid of herbal teas avalible). There are three basic types of Thea sinensis: green, black, and oolong.

Green tea has undergone very little processing and the brewed beverage is light in color. Black tea blends, more popular in this country, are made from leaves which are fermented to develop a precise flavor. Oolong teas are semi-fermented, a cross between green and black.

Terminology such as “orange pekoe” refers to the size of the tea leaf. For example, among black teas “souchong first" leaves are the largest, then “pekoe,” and then “flowery pekoe,” which are the tiny leaf buds at the very ends of the branch.

Most tea, of course, is grown in the Orient. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is also well-known for its tea production; and now, after two centuries of failed American efforts, tea is being grown successfully in this country.

Mack Fleming, a South Carolinian, and William Hall, a British-trained professional tea taster, own the 127-acre Charleston Tea Plantation where American Classic tea was developed.

The first crop of this new tea was introduced in 1987, and it has gained wide acceptance. American Classic is smooth, moderately robust, with no jarring notes or off-tastes. The pleasant drink is the sole cash crop of the Charleston Tea Plantation, which is located just south of Charleston on Wadmalaw Island, and is quite possibly the only money-making crop in the United States which is grown in only one small location.

Free tours of the facility are occasionally available by appointment. After studying how the tea is taken from bush to bag, perhaps you will be invited to sit in the gazebo, and “have a cuppa” reviving American Classic. The tea is also available at the many gourmet shops and supermarkets.