Tea Farming in California – Eventually

Can tea really be grown in the U.S.? (stock image)
Can tea really be grown in the U.S.? (stock image)

I mean no offense whatsoever to our intrepid homegrown tea producers, but compared to many of the world’s great tea growing nations, you could safely say that the United States is small potatoes. Our largest tea producer, the Charleston Tea Plantation, is located in South Carolina, where tea has been grown off and on for hundreds of years. Next up is probably the fledgling Hawaiian tea industry, which is still rather modest but is definitely an up and comer.

Beyond that there are a few small operations in various states, as well a few tea farms that are in the works. However, this is as good a time as any to note that American tea is organizing, with growers here recently banding together to form The United States League of Tea Growers (USLTG), as noted in a recent article at this site.

One of those up and coming American tea farms is located in California and is still mostly in the planning stages, though some tea plants are apparently in the ground on an experimental basis. The project is being spearheaded by tea merchants Grace and Roy Fong, who have been doing their thing in the San Francisco area for about two decades.

The record shows that at least as far back as the 1850s, there were those who thought that tea could thrive in certain parts of California. In 1890, in an agricultural report from the University of California, it was noted that “Thea bohea, the Chinese tea plant” was growing “fairly well” there. Discerning what other attempts were made to grow tea in California after that is beyond the scope of this article but one suspects that there were others who took a shot at it.

Things kicked off for the Fong’s tea farm in early 2010 when they announced that they had agreed to buy a small parcel of land in the Bay Area – where almonds were already being grown – and turn it into a tea farm. The first tea plants were set to get underway in the spring of that year but would not be ready for harvest – and drinking – for several more years.

An update a few years later revealed that much of the effort at the site was focused on getting the infrastructure in place to support tea farming but that there were “several varietals grown experimentally” there. The latest update, as of this writing, in June, 2013, reveals that a solar installation has been put in place that will help provide power for various operations on the farm.

So while we might not be drinking any homegrown California tea any time soon, it’s probably a good time as any to recall the old saw about the best things in life being worth waiting for. For more updates on progress at the farm, stay tuned here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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