In our exploration of teas of the world, we can’t miss out on those grown in the U.S. One tea plantation is fairly well-known, but others are only recently gaining any attention in the arena of tea. Time to pay them a visit.
[Side note: Before we proceed, I wanted to state that when researching this piece, I came across a lot of “tea growers” in the U.S. who turned out to grow other plants instead, not the tea plant Camellia Sinensis. This list shows only those firms growing the tea plant.]
The Tea Plantation in South Carolina
The tea plantation has been mentioned previously on this blog, but deserves a closer look. Tea first was attempted to be grown in the U.S. around the 1700s but was not commercially viable until 1888. Then there was a gap between 1915 and 2003 where tea was an iffy business. Now, though, it is proving quite successful so far.
The tea plantation is on about 127 acres located about 20 miles south of Charleston, SC. The tea plants (Camellia Sinensis) grown there are direct descendents of Dr. Shepard’s 1888 crop, so the Charleston Tea Plantation is a living part of American history. The leaves are all machine harvested and processed as either black or green teas, and some are flavored. They are sold as American Classic teas.
Hawaiian Grown Teas
As mentioned in a previous article, tea gardens in Hawaii are getting their products to market after years of planting and tending their tea plants. In addition to sugar cane, ginger, pineapples and other tropical fruits, vanilla beans, and jasmine, tea is now seen as another crop for farmers in Hawaii, with more success than previously. Some small growers have formed collectives and sell their teas through larger companies who often do the processing. Other growers process the teas they grow and then sell them directly to customers. White, green, oolong, and black teas are produced in partnership with Wal-Mart.
A sample of each type:
- Forest White — Grown at 4,000 feet elevation in the rainforest of Kilauea volcano. Only the top bud and two leaves are plucked and processed for this tea. The leaves are long, loose and downy. The liquid steeped from them is a rich clear golden infusion with a flavor that’s floral, sweet, deeply satisfying, and comforting.
- Volcano Green — Also grown at 4,000 feet elevation in the rainforest of Kilauea volcano under a canopy of native Ohia trees and Hapu’u ferns. Pan-fired green tea with an exotic aroma and pure flavor. The liquid is pale golden green with a lingering fresh taste.
- Mauka Oolong — Grown at 3,600 feet elevation near the summit of Kilauea Volcano. Artfully consistent and vibrantly colored with slightly oxidized edges. Steeps into a sophisticated, delicate, pale yellow infusion. The flavor is flinty, crisp, smooth and cooling, with mild tropical notes of green papaya and honey.
- Makai Black — Grown at only 900 feet elevation. Handcrafted with both Sinensis and Assamica leaves that steep into a crystalline amber infusion. The flavor is smooth, refined, and with no astringency or bitterness even if you steep it for a longer time. The body is crisp and yields delicate notes of caramel, barley malt with hints of chocolate, and a slight taste of roasted sweet potato.
Oregon Grown Teas
Minto Island Growers, a farm on the edge of Minto Brown Island Park in South Salem, at an elevation of a mere 210 feet above sea level, has been fairly successful at growing tea. The tea crop, first planted by Rob Miller of Mt. Jefferson Farms on the same property, has been grown for more than 25 years. Up until now, though, the harvest has been too small for commercial purposes. This year they anticipate there will be enough tea from the crop to sell it locally at their farm stand, farmers’ markets and possibly to local retailers. Their big issue is labor cost. Harvesting can be too expensive to make a small operation viable, according to Peter Goggi, executive vice president of the Tea Association of the USA.
Washington Grown Teas
Sakuma Brothers Farm is large farming operation focused on growing various fruits from strawberries to raspberries. Now they have a tea venture in partnership with John Vendeland after his tea experiments in Hawaii did not pan out. This time, he saw success growing tea in the rich alluvial soil of Washington State’s Skagit Valley at an elevation of several thousand feet — a fabulous tea growing environment. The farm, owned and run by Japanese Americans now in their third generation, produces a green tea, a black tea, and an oolong tea. For those of us used to the varieties of each of these tea types, to see these rather generic-looking teas seems simplistic. However, each tea is acclaimed as being flavorful representations of their respective types.
Alabama Grown Teas
Yes, this southern state sports a tea plantation called Fairhope. The owner, Donnie Barrett, traveled several times to China to tour some of the farms and, acting as a casual tourist, asked the right questions and enough of them to figure out the tricks to growing tea. Then, he and his wife hired a man from China to be the family cook. From him Donnie learned even more about growing and harvesting tea. While the tea is said by visitors to be quite flavorful, he does not grow enough to be commercially viable.
Growing your own tea has become quite a pastime here in the U.S. but rarely produces any sizable quantities. They are usually for personal enjoyment and for experimentation.
Don’t miss our next stop on this virtual world tea tour!
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