A quick look around the internet will show you that when it comes to the word used to describe land where tea is grown, there is no consensus. You’ll see tea gardens, tea plantations, tea estates, tea plots, and so on. Is any one of these right or preferred?
A very official source is long-time dictionary compiler/publisher Merriam-Webster. Here is their take on what these three things are:
Garden — 1. a : a plot of ground where herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables are cultivated; b : a rich well-cultivated region; c : a container (as a window box) planted with usually a variety of small plants. 2. a : a public recreation area or park usually ornamented with plants and trees <a botanical garden>; b : an open-air eating or drinking place; c : a large hall for public entertainment.
Plantation — 1. a usually large group of plants and especially trees under cultivation. 2. a settlement in a new country or region <Plymouth Plantation>. 3. a : a place that is planted or under cultivation; b : an agricultural estate usually worked by resident labor.
Estate — 1. state, condition. 2. social standing or rank especially of a high order. 3. a social or political class; specifically : one of the great classes (as the nobility, the clergy, and the commons) formerly vested with distinct political powers. 4. a : the degree, quality, nature, and extent of one’s interest in land or other property; b (1) : possessions, property; especially : a person’s property in land and tenements <a man of small estate> (2) : the assets and liabilities left by a person at death; c : a landed property usually with a large house on it; d British : project. 5. British : station wagon. 6. farm, plantation; also : vineyard
Gee, that was helpful … not!
Let’s look at other factors that may determine which term is used when.
Who’s Using What
The thing that started me even wondering if there was any difference between a tea garden, a tea plantation, or a tea estate was when I was looking into teas grown in the U.S. There is a tea “plantation” in South Carolina and tea “gardens” in Hawaii, for example. In other countries such as India, they use “garden” and “estate” mainly. Nilgiri has many small tea “estates” that are 100 to 200 hectares and often run as family operations or small businesses. Assam has Mornai, Pertabghur, Hattigor, and a host of other tea “estates.” Darjeeling has numerous tea “estates” such as Soom, Mim, Arya, and Goomtee. The term “estate” is used in other tea producing countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Japan tends to use the term “garden” for theirs. The folks promoting tea tourism seem to make no differentiation between the three terms, using them interchangeably and according to what they think will appeal to potential visitors. Any rhyme or reason here seems to be a figment of the imagination.
The term “plantation tea” or Taidi Cha (台地茶) is basic quality, commonly produced tea, with the tea plants arranged in narrow rows and shaped to make them easier to harvest. And “tea garden” is used as often for the name of a restaurant as for an actual tea garden, as a simple online search reveals.
A Tea Garden by Any Other Name…
It would seem that the Bard was right when he said that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Whether you call it a tea garden, a tea plantation, or a tea estate, it’s the tea grown there that counts.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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