Just in time for summer vacations, the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, S.C. the only place in North America where you can see tea harvested and processed has its grand reopening Thursday.
Visitors will see the results of a nearly three-year preservation and restoration project and the construction a state-of-the-art tea processing facility with an exposition hall.
"Our goal is to educate the public on how tea is grown and processed," says William Hall, the Charleston Tea Plantation partner who oversaw the renewal project.
Owned by R.C. Bigelow Inc., the tea farm produces American Classic Tea, described by the company as "a high-quality black tea with a mild tone and sweet flavor." Founded in 1960 and once operated as an experimental tea farm by Lipton, the operation was purchased at auction in 2003 by Bigelow after the private owners who bought the plantation in 1987 were unable to make a go of it.
The plantation's several hundred thousand tea bushes are descendants of those originally brought to the Charleston area from China and India more than 150 years ago. No insecticides or fungicides are used in the cultivation because these tea leaves are naturally resistant to insects and disease.
While touring the verdant fields during the May-through-October growing season, you may see the "Green Giant," a one-of-a-kind vehicle that harvests the 127 acres of 40-inch-high tea bushes laid out in long hedge rows. The hulking machine straddles the hedges while its horizontally mounted sickle bar cuts off the fresh growth that is blown into a collection bin in the rear.
Inside the factory, you'll watch through a 125-foot-long window gallery the manufacturing from raw leaf to finished tea. Tea experts are on hand to answer your questions. If you happen to tour the factory on a day when tea is not being processed, you can watch the process in detail on three giant TV screens in the gallery which, mercifully, is air-conditioned.
Before leaving, visitors can stop by the Tea Shoppe to stock up on teas to take home, browse the tea-related gifts and cool off with a glass of fresh-brewed Southern iced tea sweet or unsweet, with or without lemon.
Charleston Tea Plantation is at 6617 Maybank Highway. Free admission. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, noon6 p.m. Sundays. Open year-round. For information, call (843) 559-0383 or visit