Teas of the U.S. – South Carolina Quality Teas From a Familiar Brand

Although it’s not the first place you’d think to look for quality teas, there are sev-
eral states in the U.S. producing unique, quality, and even award winning teas.
One of these states is South Carolina.
After several attempts in the late
18th and early 
19th century, Mack
Fleming and Bill Hall purchased
Lipton Tea Company’s experimental tea farm on
Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina, where it had
operated successfully for 25 years.  In 1987 when
it was sold, the farm was turning out 
quality teas,
proving definitively that tea could be grown suc-
cessfully in the U.S., and South Carolina in particu-
lar.
Both Mack Fleming and
Bill Hall had a back-
ground and experience
working in the tea bus-
iness, with Fleming a
prior manager at Lip-
ton, and Hall a third generation tea taster who’d trained in London, England.

They named their 127 acre tea farm, Charleston Tea Plantation,
and created a brand called American Classic Tea, which is still
being blended today.  Along with the American Classic Tea brand,
they also produced Sam’s Choice 
Instant Tea that was sold
exclusively through Sam’s Club, and beginning in 1987, became
the official tea of the White House.

Unfortun-
ately by 2003 the company was in the
red and nearly bankrupt, when it was
sold at auction for $1.28 million to the
Connecticut based R.C. Bigelow Tea
Company.  Bigelow temporarily closed
the company for renovations planned
to attract tourists and help boost reve-
nue, reopening its doors in 2006.

Bigelow teas are familiar to Americans,
available in nearly every supermarket in
the U.S..  It still grows and produces
Fleming and Hall’s original American
Classic Tea, where it remains the only
black tea produced commercially in the
United States.

Bigelow renamed the
tea estate, Charleston
Tea Gardens. Tea is
the official hospitality beverage of South Carolina, and today
visitors can ride a trolley through approximately forty acres (16.2
hectares) of the plantation, to see the bushes and how they
grow, up close.  They can then tour Bigelow’s state-of-the-art
factory and see each step of the tea manufacturing process, from green leaf through the
packaging of the dried and finished black tea.

The factory produces black, oolong, and green teas that can be found in
the shop located on the grounds, that sells the various 
grades of teas,
produced at different times during the seasons, along with other Bigelow
teas.  You can also find tea wares and 
accessories, and tea related gifts,
as well as a line of body and skin care products containing Charleston
tea, including Glycerine Hand Therapy, Body Silk, and Hand and Shower
gel.

The tea plants grown at the Charleston Tea
Plantation come from a clone rather than a
seed, so as to keep the plant’s characteristics controlled.  Tea
harvesting begins in May with the first spring flush, and contin-
ues through to October.  Harvesting is done with a hybrid cotton
picker- tobacco harvester that was used previously by Fleming
and Hall, who did the modifications to it.  It’s used to harvest the
upper parts of the tea plant without injury to the bush, however, it’s unable to pick the higher
grades of tea that must be hand-plucked.

When producing the tea the leaves are first placed on a withering
table, where a stream of fresh air is blown over them for about
twelve to eighteen hours, reducing the moisture content from about
80%, down to around 68%.  The leaves are then chopped, moved
to an oxidation bed for nearly an hour, before finally being fired
and baked in an oven for approximately 30 minutes.  Times, of
course, vary depending on the moisture content of the tea leaves.

Finally extraneous matter, twigs, sticks, or fibers are removed, and the tea is packaged, ready
to go to your favorite shop, nearby supermarket, or online for you to purchase and Enjoy.