American Tea

A tea shop in England claims to have tea from five continents: Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. They are lacking a variety from our own shores, largely because there is not that much in production. The United States is home to only one commercial tea plantation, in Charleston. That doesn’t keep people from trying to cultivate tea in such diverse states as Hawaii and Oregon. Recently, one entrepreneur bought land in California, hoping to begin selling tea within three years.

But have you ever heard the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same? This entrepreneur will not be the first to attempt to cultivate camellia sinensis in California, although he is probably the first in this century.

In 1863, a Mr. Sonntag hailing from near San Francisco planted around a thousand tea plants grown from seeds imported from China. He reasoned that the climate at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas closely resembled that of the very successful tea producing region of Assam, along the foot of the Himalayas.

This information comes from an article in The Weekly Vincennes Western Sun, an Indiana newspaper, on August 8, 1863. The author cites Assam as a region producing tea far superior to the tea produced in China. Interestingly enough, most tea cultivated in China is the variety camellia sinensis sinensis, while the tea grown in Assam is the variety camellia sinensis assamica.

It seems unlikely that Mr. Sonntag would have ordered assamica seeds from China, resulting in the high quality tea hoped for in the article. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the results of this early American tea cultivation experiment, and I would be curious as the success of it in the middle of a war.

Alas, Mr. Sonntag, no attempt has yet been successful. I do hope, you weren’t ruined by your own attempt.

Get a fresh scoop of American tea over on Stephanie’s blog, The Tea Scoop!

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