It’s been noted a number of times in these pages that the United States has never actually been a hotbed of tea production. But there was apparently enough interest in the topic that in 1907, the USDA released Farmers’ Bulletin 301 – Home-Grown Tea, by George Frederick Mitchell. It’s a brief but interesting work that provides an unusual perspective on tea growing on a smaller scale, for the amateur gardener.
South Carolina’s Charleston Tea Plantation is probably the biggest producer of domestically grown tea these days and Mitchell claims that it was the same region of South Carolina that first saw tea planted in the U.S., in the early years of the nineteenth century. Though a number of the experiments that followed that one seemed to flounder, there was apparently some success at the Pinehurst estate, in South Carolina, where about six tons of tea was produced annually late in that same century.
After sketching this brief history of American tea production, Mitchell goes into some of the nuts and bolts of planting and cultivation, as one might expect from a publication called a Farmers’ Bulletin. Then he moves on to harvesting and curing, devoting sections here to both black tea and green tea. As he notes – a point that may not have been so well-known at the time – “green tea is made from the same leaves as the black.”
Next up, a two-paragraph section on How to Prepare Tea for Drinking. This is fairly standard stuff and there’s not much to argue with except that Mitchell suggests that tea leaves should not be steeped more than once because what’s left after the first steeping is “deleterious” to one’s health.
The author concludes that growing tea at home can be profitable and pleasurable and allow one to forego the dicey adulterated teas that were apparently still common on his day. Among the various unpleasant substances that one could presumably avoid by growing their own tea – “Prussian blue, indigo, turmeric, soapstone, and leaves of other plants than tea.”
Click here for a free digital version of Mitchell’s bulletin.
See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.
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