Now you'd think my home state would be the easiest one to blog about, wouldn't you? Instead, I had the problem of having *too much* information to share, and it was hard to decide which three tidbits about tea in Georgia that I wanted to share. I finally narrowed it down to these …
• Arguably the most famous "old style" tea room ever to operate in Georgia was the Frances Virginia Tea Room in Atlanta. Frances Virginia Wikle Whitaker opened the tea room in the heart of the Depression and, by 1931, was serving 1,000 people a day, which meant that 1 percent of Atlanta's population was eating at the tea room each day. Even so, Frances Virginia is not to be found in any Atlanta history book, but fortunately the Frances Virginia Tea Room lives on today thanks to Millie Huff Coleman, whose aunt, Agnes New, was the last dietitian partner of the Frances Virginia. I've had the pleasure of meeting Millie at a number of local events over the years, and I'm grateful that she and her aunt joined forces to pull out the old Frances Virginia recipes and convert them to sizes for home cooks to use. The resulting cookbook, "The Frances Virginia Tea Room Cookbook," is still available today on Amazon and from used book sellers, and it is one of my most prized tearoom cookbooks!
• A tea plantation in India? Not quite. These tea plants are part of a hedge I spotted a few years back at Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange. According to the Hills and Dales website, "Completed in 1916, the Fuller E. Callaway home was designed to flow gracefully into its gardens—a series of dwarf boxwood parterres, which have adorned the terraces of the hill for more than 175 years and is one of the best preserved 19th century gardens in the country. The classic lines of the 13,000-square-foot home have now silently watched over the beloved gardens for a century." (These gardens, by the way, are not to be confused with Callaway Gardens in neighboring Pine Mountain, which were founded by Fuller Callaway's son Cason.) I loved learning that these tea plants at Hills and Dales provided tea for the Callaway family, and you can read more about that here.
• You know how you start researching one thing on the Internet and that leads to another thing and then another? I was skimming a Wikipedia article on tea production one day last year when these two lines stopped me in my tracks: "Commercial tea cultivation in the Americas was first attempted in 1744 in Colonial Georgia, when tea seeds were sent to the Trust Garden in Savannah. The first recorded successful cultivation of the tea plant in the colonies is recorded as growing on Skidaway Island near Savannah in 1772." That tidbit included a reference to a 2007 article in The Camellia Journal (above) which shares more about the early efforts to grow tea in this country. Although tea was growing here by 1805, the effort was not a big success. The article notes that the most successful tea-growing effort in America was near Charleston, S.C., and I know many of you are already familiar with the Charleston Tea Plantation. (It's a great place to visit for a tour of a tea-growing operation, by the way, if you haven't already.) As a lifelong Georgian, I was so pleased to learn that Georgia was the first of the colonies to be recorded as successfully growing tea in this country!