“Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina” by Charles Upham Shepard

It’s probably safe to say by now that tea production in South Carolina has progressed beyond being an experiment or that the experiment has succeeded or what have you. Of all of the many states that currently produce tea – most on a very modest scale – South Carolina is the most significant. It’s home to the Charleston Tea Plantation and is a state that’s been a host to tea production for about two centuries.

"Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina" by Charles Upham Shepard (Screen capture from site)
“Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina” by Charles Upham Shepard (Screen capture from site)

Writing in the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, Charles Upham Shepard apparently felt that tea growing there was still in the experimental stage. Hence the title of his 1899 book, Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina. Although, to be perfectly accurate about it, Shepard’s work is actually a 27-page USDA Report, rather than a book. But it’s an interesting volume, nonetheless, and one that starts by informing us that Dr. Charles U. Shepard was a “Special Agent in Charge Tea Investigations.” Which sounds like nice work if you can get it.

Not surprisingly, given the fact that it was a USDA publication, Shepard’s report is a rather nuts and bolts affair. Though some sources suggest that tea growing was attempted in this area as far back as the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, Shepard only references experiments as early as 1848. He notes that tea can be grown in home gardens or on plantations in warm areas in the United States, but Shepard’s report focuses primarily on the established Pinehurst estate in Summerville, South Carolina.

Among the topics covered in this practical report include sections on irrigation, cost of labor, buildings and machinery and so on. Some of the more interesting sections include one on curing and quality of green tea, and A Plea for American Tea, which was an article the author penned for a Florida newspaper. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the report – and one that’s not always found in these old volumes – is a rather extensive selection of drawings and photos.

As with most of those works, thanks to the miracle of digitization, you can read it for free online.

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

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