The tea in my cup was too hot to drink, so I set it down and answered the question that my brother-in-law had asked, “The Charleston Tea Company Website claims that it’s the only tea plantation in the continental United States. Since I like tea so much and I want to see what the plants look like, but don’t want to go overseas, that’s one place we’ll go.”
My family had just finished eating the Easter meal at my house and were loosening their belts to relax with cups of tea and fluffy, dairy-rich desserts. My sister said, “I’ve always thought of tea being grown in China, India or Malaysia. How did you find out about this plantation?”
Letting a forkful of fruit fluff melt in my mouth before answering, I said, “I can’t even remember how I first discovered it located on an island hugging the coast of South Carolina. I never thought I’d actually go there!”
My oldest grandson questioned, “South Carolina is a long way to go to just see a tea plantation!”
Taking a sip of the delicious aromatic black tea in my cup, I smiled and explained, “My friend Val, who edits my articles, moved to North Carolina last summer. Tammie and I decided to go visit her this year.”
My daughter Tammie, added, “We’re going to sightsee while there. The tea plantation is within a reasonable driving distance of where Val lives.”
Nodding, I said, “I would hate to visit the Carolinas, but not stop to see something that interests me so much!”
My brother said softly, “I was stationed in North Carolina when I was in the army and whenever I got leave, I did a lot of driving around. All the coastal states are beautiful in the springtime. Every plant, tree and shrub goes into full blossom.” He looked pleased, as if he had happy memories from that time of his life.
I sighed, “Tammie, I hope we won’t be there too late to see all of the spring flowers!” I’d inherited a good share of my mother’s love for flowers, so whenever I travel, I want to see new types of plants and trees.
Another sip of my tea made me remember something I wanted to tell my sister. I said, “You told me the other day that someone once gave you a camellia and that it looked like a rose. I looked camellia up in the computer and discovered one listed as camellia sinensis. Did you know that tea leaves are taken from sinensis plants? I wonder if the flowering plants are the same as the tea leave plants?”
One of my granddaughters asked, “If the tea plantation is on an island, do you have to take a boat to get there?”
Remembering what I’d read about the Charleston Tea Company, I answered, “No, I think we can drive over a bridge to Wadmalaw Island. The island is six miles by ten miles in size. I doubt if the plantation takes up all of the land. Tea plants were first grown in the United States in 1799, but never really took off. I’m not sure why. Maybe tea is hard to grow, or maybe it doesn’t bring in much money. The Charleston Tea Company is owned by Bigelow Tea now, but still packages product under the Charleston Company name.”
My sister asked, “What else are you hoping to see while visiting your friend?”
I exclaimed, “I’m really excited about all the possibilities! There are several things I want to see, one being the Biltmore Estates, constructed in the late 1890’s by George Washington Vanderbilt II. He married Edith in 1898 and he died in 1914. His family still owns the place. I love how the rich men who built big homes in that era were very forward thinking. Their houses have electricity, indoor plumbing, alarm systems, and often central vacuums. I’ve read that even the village houses where the estate employees lived, were given electricity and indoor plumbing. Mr. Vanderbilt was all about providing education, too. How many bosses are that good to their employees?”
My three grandsons, aged eleven, nine and seven, held up their tea cups and clamored for more. I poured tea for them humming the song, “Tea for two and two for tea, just me for you and you for me, can’t you see how happy we’ll be!”