Tea is too often taken for granted. Unless you are a tea aficionado, you don’t think twice about a simple cup of Lipton or Tetley, you just dunk a tea bag in the cup of hot water and have at it. Where does tea come from, and how is it processed? What’s the difference between black, green and white tea? Is herbal tea really “tea”?
Most tea we drink here in America comes from afar – China, India, Indonesia. But, there is one (and only one) tea plantation in the U.S. A visit to the Charleston Tea Plantation will “steep” you in the history of tea and how it is brought from leaf to table. I pun…but our own visit there was really very enlightening.
A stroll through the factory tour revealed that black, green and even white tea leaves all come from the same type of plants. It’s all in the processing, a complicated combination of withering, oxidizing, and other stuff I can’t remember now but I recommend reading about it if you are really interested.
Boarding a trolley with a knowledgable guide/driver, you are shuttled through the plantation to see acres and acres of tea plants and learn even more. At the greenhouse, you get up close to the propagation process, and learn things like the tea plant’s relation to the camellia, how an adapted farm machine cuts only the most tender offshoots, and how a tea tree can grow for hundreds of years if well-tended.
This visit, coupled with the book I am reading about a Japanese family entrusted with the art of the tea ceremony in mid-late 1800s Japan, and one of the winners of the Global Folklorist Challenge focusing on a tea master in Taiwan (see the entry “From Green Leaves to Green Tea”) has caused me to see tea in whole new ways. And, no, herbal “tea” is not really tea at all in case you wonder.
Happy tea drinking in 2017!