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American-grown tea?

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Paul B.

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American-grown tea?

by Paul B. » Fri Jan 05, 2007 8:50 pm

Ever since getting seriously into whole-leaf teas (mostly green but also Oolong), I have been wondering off and on whether any parts of the U.S. grow tea and market the leaves in a premium whole-leaf format. I'm sure that parts of the southern U.S. have just the right climate to grow the tea plant. Any recommendations? Sadly, I have yet to see a single American tea in any store at all. Mostly I favour the Chinese ones for their flavour, but always try to go organic.

Any recommendations would be most appreciated.
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Bob Ross

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Re: American-grown tea?

by Bob Ross » Fri Jan 05, 2007 9:03 pm

I visited a tea plantation near Charleston South Carolina a few years ago, Paul. Now owned by Bigelow. Didn't think much of the tea, although it may have improved: http://www.bigelowtea.com/act/

There's an organic tea plantation in Hawaii, but I think its a native herb, not one of the tea trees of Asia: http://www.organichawaii.com/ Again, I didn't care much for it, although there is some interesting history associated with the plant.
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Re: American-grown tea?

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 06, 2007 12:59 am

Tea agriculture is extremely labor-intensive. I'm sure that North America has lots of higher-altitude hillsides that would be suitable sites for tea-growing, but we lack the cheap labor needed to harvest the crop. It just isn't economically viable.

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Re: American-grown tea?

by Bob Ross » Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:33 am

We were told that the tea industry in South Carolina generally failed for two other reasons, Paul -- tea sells at very low prices and there has been great consumer resistence to US tea. The bushes -- Oolong if memory serves -- were growing on a low island near Charleston.
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Re: American-grown tea?

by Paul B. » Sat Jan 06, 2007 2:40 am

Many thanks for the info, Bob and Paul.

On one site sometime not long ago, I read about nurseries that sell tea plants in the U.S. Apparently there are gardeners who like adding a tea plant to their backyard - a fascinating and tempting thought to a teaholic like me, although I highly doubt that there are any subspecies of Camellia sinensis (or hybrids) that are winter hardy and suitable for Ontario. Maybe one day?
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Re: American-grown tea?

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 06, 2007 3:37 am

Bob Ross wrote:We were told that the tea industry in South Carolina generally failed for two other reasons, Paul -- tea sells at very low prices and there has been great consumer resistence to US tea. The bushes -- Oolong if memory serves -- were growing on a low island near Charleston.


That's what I was alluding to when I touched on the labor costs--tea doesn't fetch enough of a market price to justify the US production costs.

I observe that the best teas worldwide are grown in higher-altitude hillside locations. Charleston is one the last areas I'd consider suitable, due to both altitude and temperature.

Oolong isn't a tea bush variety--it's a production process (semi-fermentation).

I'd think the Appalachian foothills in the Carolinas might be appropriate--similar to Assam or Ceylon, for example. But again the production costs probably mean it would never be commercially viable, even if the product is of reasonable quality.

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Re: American-grown tea?

by Bob Ross » Sat Jan 06, 2007 12:43 pm

The history of tea growing in South Carolina is outlined in this short article: http://sciway.net/tourism/tea-history.html Persistent, but fatal activity.

It's interesting that the only working tea plantation in the US is near sea level given that the finest Chinese teas at are higher elevations.

I wonder if the tea bushes themselves aren't quite adaptable, and that it's where the people live that determines where tea thrives. As you write, tea culture is extremely labor intensive, perhaps not the growing so much, but the harvesting and processing thereafter.

I remember being struck on the road from Jahkarta to Bandung by how many tea plantations there were at all elevations -- from basically sea level all the way to 2500 feet or so.

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