AAA Alabama Journey....
A SPOT FOR TEA
Charleston Tea Plantation's First Flush Festival
heralds the tea harvest season
Come May, the only tea farm in the continental U.S. celebrates its first harvest of the year with the First Flush Festival, which gives tea lovers the opportunity to observe how the world's second-most consumed beverage (after water) is made.
Located in South Carolinas Lowcountry on Wadmalaw Island, about 18 miles from Charleston, the Charleston Tea Plantation covers 127 acres, with one-third planted in tea bushes that descend from bushes brought over from China in the 1800s. The plantation was founded in 1987 to produce a line of teas called American Classic. In 2003, the Bigelow family of the R.C. Bigelow tea company purchased the plantation. The Bigelows worked with third-generation tea-taster Bill Hall to create a place where tea lovers can see how the beverage is made from leaf to cup. They fully restored the grounds and built a tea-processing factory, and the plantation opened to the public in 2006.
In the factory, visitors can watch through a 125-foot window as equipment processes tea from raw leaf to finished black tea. During the harvest season (May-October), plants are picked about every 15 days; the leaves go from harvest to finished tea in less than 24 hours. If tea isnt being processed during a visit, videos shown on three TV screens illustrate each step. A large gift shop stocks teas, including American Classic and limited-edition First Flush, and much more. Tea bushes and old oaks dot the grounds surrounding the factory, where visitors can picnic (with iced tea the beverage of choice).
Now in its third year, the First Flush Festival has grown to include trolley tours of the plantation, factory tours, regional fare such as boiled peanuts, games and rides for kids and kids at heart, and live music. And of course, there's lots of complimentary thirst-quenching iced tea.
If You Go
The First Flush Festival takes place May 16. Tours are available year-round Wednesdays through Saturdays 10am-4pm and Sundays noon-4pm. 6617 Maybank Highway, Wadmalaw Island, SC. (843) 559-0383; www.charlestonteaplantation.com.