Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Charleston Tea Plantation - Part 2
After the Charleston Tea Plantation trolley tour, our next stop was "the plant," which some clever soul decided visitors should enter through the gift shop. (It would have taken the Green Giant to keep me *away* from the gift shop, but I digress.) After spotting a number of nice souvenirs that would be going home with me, DH and I got in line for the tour and were among the 28 in this group.
It was a very orderly tour, and I was pleased to see there were a number of things in place to make the experience more enjoyable for tourists. For example, a large mirror-like piece (I'm betting it wasn't a real mirror) was hanging over the processing machinery so visitors could see it at work. You can see in the top photo here that the mirror is suspended from the ceiling of the facility. The withering bed, shown in these two photos, can hold 5,000 pounds of tea leaves and is where the leaves rest for 18 hours. During this time, about 12 percent of the moisture is removed.
And this is the rotovane, a cylinder chamber with "teeth" where the tea leaves are shredded. Why are they shredded? So the liquid cells are ruptured, exposing the leaf to oxygen. After this stage the leaves go to an oxidation bed, and as many of us have learned, their time in the oxidation bed determines whether the tea ends up as black, green or oolong. (I've learned that sharing this one simple fact with folks will REALLY make you sound like an expert. They are just amazed that you don't have fields with green tea plants, black tea plants and white tea plants. Kinda cool to know, isn't it!)
Video screens are placed throughout the tour route, and you hear from the Bigelows, who now own the tea plantation, as well as a narrator who shares a bit of the place's history. I was pleased to learn about the roots (literal and figurative) of the tea plants at Charleston Tea Plantation. It turns out there were two tea businesses in South Carolina in the late 1800s, the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, founded by a Dr. Charles Shepard, and Golden Grove Tea Company (googling reveals Golden Grove had a tea farm in Greenville). The businesses didn't last but their tea plants did, and so plants at the Charleston Tea Plantation, founded in 1960, are descendants of those plants imported from China and India and grown in South Carolina more than a hundred years ago. And now let's wind this up and end our mini-tour of the CTP. A few final photos:
A small greenhouse was set up for the festival, and it contained some nice posters outlining the process by which they clone new tea plants.
This clever sign emphasizes the fact you'll have to travel a few miles to find the next closest tea plantation. In the background are musicians who performed at the festival.
And finally, one last look at those vast rows of tea. Can you see why I am now obsessed with finding a tea plant of my own to grow? I was hoping they'd have some for sale so I could buy two: one for me, and one for my green-thumbed friend Sandra, who would successfully grow hers and give me a cutting when mine died. But alas, no. I did, however, leave with a sackful of goodies from the gift shop, and if you're not Charleston Tea Plantation-ed out yet, I'll share that tomorrow!