Tea history in America
the story of United States efforts to grow tea


Commercial farms in America, what is our tea history?

What do Washington, South Carolina, and Hawaii have in common? That’s easy - theyleaf tea are all part of the United States. Let’s throw Sri Lanka, India, and China into the mix. Now what do they all have in common? If you said tea, you’re correct. All six areas produce and sell tea. Tea farms in Washington, South Carolina, and Hawaii are admittedly not major contributors to the world’s tea production, but they are in the game.


The Charleston Tea Plantation a part of our tea history

The largest and most productive tea farm in the United States is the Charleston Tea Plantation. It is located on 30 acres in Charleston, South Carolina. It has an interesting, if somewhat complicated history. It owes its beginnings to an event that occurred on July 4, 1915. On that day Dr. Charles Upham Shepard died. Dr Shepard was known as the “Father of the Tea Industry” in America.


He was the first American to grow tea on a large scale for the commercial market. His tea farm was located on 60 acres of land in Summerville, South Carolina just outside of Charleston. He raised, harvested, and sold about 15,000 pounds of tea annually. His venture was a commercial success, but after his death, the farm stopped producing. Perhaps because of high labor costs, the farm was left unattended for 45 years. At that time, the Lipton Tea Company acquired cuttings from Shepard’s plants and moved them to a research and development station in Charleston. No teas were commercially produced at the research station.


Twenty years later, in 1980, a professional tea taster named William Hall discovered the Lipton facility. He joined with the facility’s manager, a horticulturalist, to buy the facility. They transformed it into a working tea farm that is now known as the Charleston Tea Plantation. In 2003 the farm was sold to the R.C. Bigelow Tea Company which now produces American Classic teas under the Bigelow brand.


The Charleston Tea Plantation according to William Hall can only produce tea in America because of harvesting equipment. None of the leaves are plucked by hand, but are harvested using cutting machines. These are not considered artisnal teas and are processed for use in tea bags.

In 2007 the plantation introduced 3 loose leaf teas.

American Classic Loose Teas


Our tea history continues the Sakuma Market Stand


The Sakuma brothers, of Burlington, Washington own a farm that specializes in producing strawberries. They have, for years, sold these berries from their Sakuma Market Stand. The brothers shared another interest, however - tea. Starting in 1990, they proved that tea did not have to be grown in a tropical climate. They identified several clones that grow splendidly in the cool Washington climate. Their market stand now sells loose leaf white, green, and black teas. They have become, officially, the second commercial tea plantation in the United States.

High labor costs for picking tea leaves make it difficult to compete with foreign teas on the basis of price. The Sakuma brothers found their niche by producing only high-grade teas. They limit their harvest to the two leaves and bud at the end of each branch.

More American tea history the Hawaii Tea Society


Hawaiian farmers started growing tea in the late 1800s. Problems with the hardiness of the tea plants and high labor costs, relative to the costs in Asia, forced farmers to discontinue the crop. In the year 2000, however, horticulturist Francis Zee discovered a camellia sinensis plant that thrived in Hawaii’s tropical heat and volcanic soil.

Farmers again began growing tea. In 2004, a group of about 40 small tea growers formed an organization to promote tea produced in Hawaii. Their success is borne out by encouraging statistics. In 2003 Hawaii had 5 acres of land dedicated to growing tea. In 2005 they planted 80 acres. Current projections indicate that the production in 2008 will triple the 2005 acreage.

The Future of American Tea

Shortly before our civil war, the national government showed an interest in developing a tea industry in the United States. The long-term goal was to make us self-sufficient in tea production. Circumstances made the dream die then, but it may become a reality one day as American tea farms prosper and grow.




Other interesting articles on tea history

History of tea begins
History of tea in America
History of Iced tea


From Tea History to Your cup of tea
Top of Tea history




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