The Charleston Tea Plantation Bigelow’s Field to Cup Charleston SC

Friends Drift Inn Farm – On The Road Charleston SC

American Classic Tea by Bigelow Charleston Tea Plantation

Part I Pikeville in the Rearview Mirror Here we come Charleston!

Bigelow’s American Classic Tea from Field to Cup on Wadmalaw Island

Wadmalaw Island offers Adventures

Wadmalaw Island is a relaxing place, with little commercialization. The light is amazing, the growing season is long.

It was tea that was on our minds as we rolled into the sandy parking lot of Charleston Tea Plantation just off Maybank Highway.That might seem like an obvious statement, but consider that we drank three gallons of sweet tea at 82 Queen. Tea was on our mind in the most pressing of ways! Giggles

Baby Boomers Rock at Charleston Tea Plantation

The welcoming center is charming; a big front porch with rocking chairs greets eager visitors. Inside, there is a gift shop filled with tea collectibles, from charm bracelet dangles, to serving trays, to you guessed it all kinds of “American Classic Tea” Bigelow’s brand name for the plantation’s leaves.

The Charleston Tea Plantation was originally a “field test” program for Lipton tea. Varies species of tea were brought to the island to evaluate performances. The tea plant is kin to camellia flowers, in fact it’s Latin name is Camellia Sinensis When the historic venue was threatened, Bigelow Tea bought the operation. Today, it is a popular tourist destination as well as the only working tea plantation in America.

Madonna is the tea connoisseur among us, and has been known to schedule trips specifically to partake of high tea at some unique inn or café. Rhoda is known for tea sandwiches, she makes the most amazing cucumber sandwiches garnished with alfalfa sprouts! As for me, well a cup of hot Bigelow tea with a Fat Rascal is my idea of bliss.

Harvest 2011 Not your usual Crop Report!

Bigelow Tea Harvest The Green Giant Charleston Tea Plantation

In Kentucky, the first of May means “Kentucky Derby Week” but in Charleston, it is “First Flush” time; a celebration of spring tea harvest. At the plantation, it takes about twenty business days to harvest the “first flush.” When they finish, it’s time to start the second rotation cutting. Tea is harvested up until October, when the tea plants go dormant.

It’s not easy to photograph tea plants from a trolley vantage point. The rows and rows look like a sheered privet hedge. The rows are elevated, allowing accumulated rainwater to run off. There is a fine line between well watered and soggy. Three irrigation ponds dot the plantation, one is occupied by Wally, the alligator…who sunned luxuriantly as we trammed past his abode.

Wadmalaw Island’s soil is very sandy, but apparently well suited to growing tea. During the growing season, about five thousand pounds of tea is harvested by “The Green Giant” each working day. Of that, by the time the stems and branches are discarded, and the tea is processed the day’s labor amounts to approximately a one thousand pound yield. I giggled about the fact that “The Green Giant” was made from machinery once used to harvest cotton and tobacco. How cool is that #agchat folks?

Bigelow’s mission statement is “Do the right thing and good things will follow.” No pesticides are used at Charleston Tea Plantation….which makes us very very happy.

Charleston Tea Plantation Bob The Trolley Driver

In the gift shop, we enjoyed some complimentary tastings including Charleston Breakfast, a strong tea very rich and palate pleasing. I picked up the breakfast tea, and “Governor’s Grey.” Madonna and Rhoda got assortment packs, plus tea cookies including benne wafers.


As we departed the trolley tour, Bob our driver urged “Get on Island Time. Start today slow, and taper off from there.”


Madonna, Rhoda and I may have a few grey hairs, but slowing down was not an option. We made the sandy soil fly in a cloud of dust as we rushed to our next destination Irvine House Vineyards, Firefly Vodka, Sea Island Rum


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About Joyce Pinson

Joyce Friend Pinson is a regional farm-to-table columnist for the Appalachian-News Express. She is a local television host. Her column show and blog, Friends Drift Inn, explores food, gardening, and real life farm-to-table stories from the perspective of a baby boomer in Appalachia. Joyce has a background in agriculture, media, and small business. Joyce is an heirloom gardening addict and home canner. She has a penchant for big hats, pointy toed shoes, and bourbon. Along with her husband Charlie, Joyce really does live in a barn where they ballroom dance. And laugh. And cook. And giggle.