When one considers the world’s tea growing regions, what are the countries that come to mind? China. Taiwan. Japan. India. Sri Lanka. I suspect that not many people would even think of the United States.
Tea growing in the U.S. began more than 150 years ago in South Carolina. There were several attempts to successfully grow and sell tea, including an experiment by the federal government in the 1880s. Efforts were largely unsuccessful for decades. The high cost of labor and variations in climate, among other problems, made the process difficult to sustain. One plantation met with modest success but it closed down in 1915. 45 years later, Lipton Tea purchased the gardens and used the plants to develop a new outpost on Wadmalaw Island. In 1987, the plantation was sold and the newest incarnation, Charleston Tea Plantation, opened for business. In 2003, Bigelow Tea Company purchased the estate and after 3 years of renovations they now produce and sell black tea and offer tours and other events.
South Carolina is not the only place growing tea in the U.S. these days. The 1800s also saw experimentation with tea in Hawaii. The efforts were abandoned until a horticulturalist relaunched a serious initiative in 2000. There are now a number of small farms growing and selling tea on the islands and a few are beginning to export tea to the mainland for sale. The Hawaii Tea Society has approximately 40 members, most of whom grow half an acre or less in their backyard gardens. There are a few larger, more established plantations such as those run by Big Island Tea, Onomea Tea, Tea Hawaii, and Mauna Kea Tea. The tea grown in Hawaii is being processed as black, oolong, and green.
Washington State has some small scale tea growing and production by Sakuma Brothers Farm. The staff at Mt. Jefferson Farms in Oregon began test growing 900 varieties of tea in the 1980s. Minto Island Growers is now continuing the project, with a tea block that is now being pruned for future picking and processing.
In March 2010, tea entrepreneur Roy Fong announced that he had purchased a farm in upstate California with the intent of establishing a substantial tea plantation specializing in oolong tea. It will be a number of years before we see if this effort meets with success.
The dreams continue. Only time will tell if someday American grown tea will gain its own serious following.
World Tea Expo
June 13-17, 2016 Las Vegas, NV
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Sept 22-24, 2016 Baltimore, MD
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March 10-12, 2016 Anaheim, CA