The history of tea growing in America begins and remains in the South. The tea bush, camellia sinensis, was introduced to coastal South Carolina in the 18th century, at first mainly as an ornamental curiosity. Cuttings from these plants became the foundation for America’s first and only commercial tea plantation.
Located on Wadmalaw Island, south of Charleston, the plantation was established in 1960 as a research site for Lipton Tea. When the site went on the market, Bill Hall, a professional tea taster and importer, bought it, founding the Charleston Tea Plantation in 1987. In 2004, he partnered with Bigelow Tea, and after extensive improvements, including a new visitor’s center and curing plant, the plantation reopened at the beginning of the 2006 harvesting season. The Charleston Tea Plantation welcomes the first tea of the season at its “First Flush” celebration every May.
By Damon Lee Fowler, a food writer in Savannah. Ga.