Tourists get a taste of how tea is processed at the Charleston Tea Plantation

The Smart Traveler

June 09, 2006

WADMALAW ISLAND, S.C. -- Green-yellow tea plants reach into the distance at the Charleston Tea Plantation as a green harvester slowly makes its way down one row, gently cutting the youngest leaves from atop the bushes to make them into American Classic Tea.

The only commercial tea plantation in North America is again in production and on May 11, began officially welcoming visitors again to see how tea is processed.

"What we have here is a gem," said William Hall, a third-generation English-trained tea taster and partner in the plantation.

"I would hope that over time this will become a destination for a lot of tea drinkers and that it will bring a considerable number of people into Charleston," added David Bigelow, co-chairman of the board of R.C. Bigelow Inc., the Connecticut tea company that purchased the plantation at auction in 2003. The company spent three years restructuring the plantation into an operation and a tourist attraction.

Visitors are able to take a tour through a spacious new production building where large-screen monitors explain how tea is processed from green leaves to the finished product.

As many as 50,000 visitors are expected this year, Bigelow said.

The plantation also has a gift shop selling items such as videos on how tea is made and teacups and teapots. The company would also like to add a restaurant at the plantation, Bigelow said.

"We didn't buy it originally for tourism. We did buy it just to save it; we truly did. We just couldn't let the only tea plantation in America die," said Lori Bigelow, Bigelow's daughter and the company's co-president. "It was for the country and it was for the tea industry."

Bigelow, a family company that was started in Connecticut in 1945, is probably best-known for its "Constant Comment" tea, an orange-spice blend.

Tea at the Charleston plantation is harvested from late April through October, with the harvester gathering in a day what it would take 500 laborers to do by hand.

When tea is not being processed, visitors will still be able to walk through the production facility, see the equipment and watch the monitors to see how tea is made.

The property on rural Wadmalaw Island is about 20 miles west of Charleston. The plantation is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to bigelowtea.com/act or call 843-559-0383.

Associated Press

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