Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One More for the Road

I never realised that we grew tea in the United States. For me tea was something exotic from far away places normally associated with Asia. As a kid growing up in LA, I came to know a wonderful family, the Rodes, from Ceylon (Srilanka today). Their kids and I grew up together and we became the best of friends. Tea was a ritual at their house in the way it was prepared and enjoyed. The family and I would sit around the porch and Esme (the mother) would arrive with an ordinary aluminum tea pot with the most wonderful concoction you ever tasted. This very strong tea would be consumed sweetened with condensed milk that really hit the spot after one of those fabulous Sunday brunches with multiple hot, hot curries and other equally delectable spicy dishes, that so marked my teenage years.

The film Elephant Walk with Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch was shot in Ceylon's in 1953. It shows the color and pageant of tea culture with the tea pickers going into the beautiful mountain slopes to harvest the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) which is a form of flowering Camellias. I suspect that tea culture and harvest is probably still, in parts of the world, as how it was portrayed in that movie. I also realise that it is hard work in the hot tropical sun and must not have been as romantic as it was portrayed.
So you can imagine what a surprise it was to discover that in South Carolina we have a modern tea plantation. The only one in the United States. Here plants of green tea are grown and harvested to create American Classic Island Green Tea. The plantation is large enough and fields go as far as the eye can see.

It appears to be all harvested by machine as is the entire process of prepping the leaves for market. That is also all done on site to joys of the tourists who visit individually or in tours. I stumbled on it by chance as I was looking for the Angel Oak. Signs to the plantation lead me across John's Island which is one of the larger islands on the Charleston Bay watershed.

manicured rows of plants appear to be all machine pruned which is practical given all the cottonmouth snakes in the area

This was my second stop of the day. It was a wonderful place to relax, snoop and discover along the way. I tried the green tea which was really great and refreshing. The property had a certain look of the Old South even though the tea plantation is rather recent. I sat by the fields sipping my iced green tea underneath this great old oak. Unfortunately, my stay was short as I was on my way to the Middleton Plantation where I knew I wanted to spend a lot of time. Still it was a great stop along the road. It is just unfortunate that there was not a great Ceylonese lunch to go with my tea.

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