Charleston Tea Plantation produces the only tea grown in the United States on Wadmalaw Island, thirty miles south of Charleston. The plantation is operated by William Barclay Hall, a third-generation tea-taster, and Mack Fleming, the horticulturist who developed the company’s mechanical harvester for Lipton, the original developer of the land. It is planted with more than 125 acres of tea, Camellia sinensis. Tea and camellias have celebrated histories in South Carolina. Although Boston’s Tea Party is more renowned, Charleston officials also confiscated British tea in the city’s harbor. However, rather than destroying it, they hid it in the Old Exchange Building before secretly selling it to sympathizers of independence to fund the Revolutionary War effort. Ornamental camellias first arrived in America at Middleton Plantation near Charleston in 1799 with the French botanist André Michaux. Their popularity spread throughout the Republic, but South Carolina is the only state ever to have produced Camellia sinensis commercially.
Dr. Junius Smith first attempted tea cultivation in Greenville in 1848. He was successful at propagating the plants, but the operation ceased after his death in 1853. Dr. Alexis Forster was successful in Georgetown from 1874 to 1879, but his tea plants were similarly abandoned when he died. In 1888 Dr. Charles Shepard established the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville and gained fame for his oolong tea, which is partially oxidized. Thousands of plants were propagated from Shepard’s cuttings and were planted near Rantowles, just south of Charleston, in 1903, but family disputes resulted in the dissolution of that venture in 1907. The present Charleston Tea Plantation was begun in 1963 by Thomas J. Lipton, scion of the tea magnate. Charleston Tea Plantation produces black tea, which is totally oxidized before being dried. In 2003 Bigelow Tea purchased the plantation, with plans to rename the operation Charleston Tea Gardens. Tea, the drink steeped from the leaves, is second in worldwide popularity after water.
Rogers, Aida. “Tastiest Tea in North America: The Charleston Tea Plantation.” Sandlapper 4 (autumn 1993): 30–34.
Walcott, Susan M. “Tea Production in South Carolina.” Southeastern Geographer 39 (May 1999): 61–74.