History, Loose Tea, Tea, Tea Accessories

An American Tea

American tea? Yes, there IS such a thing and I’m not talking about a tea that’s produced elsewhere and we simply destribute it, but tea GROWN in the U.S.

I received an email from Bigelow Tea announcing that the first tea leaves of the season were recently harvested for their American Classic First Flush® Loose Tea and it was ready for sale! Then it went on to say “This unique black tea comes out only once a growing season and is made entirely from tea plants grown at the tea garden on South Carolina’s Wadmalaw Island.” After a patriotic holiday last weekend, how could I pass up the opportunity to  try some true American-grown tea. So, I ordered a tin. I placed the order on Thursday…it arrived on my doorstep Friday. WOW! Fast, fast, service.

Saturday morning was slightly cooler and breezy here in Maine. A perfect combination for a delightful tea outside on the deck for the very first time this season. I prepared my tray, linen napkin, delicious goodies and some American pansies from my deck planters. However, I wanted to use an American-made teapot and teacup & saucer. THAT proved to be a little difficult.

Almost all (well, pretty much all) of my tea collection has been made in England or Scottland. I ended up using an all-white teapot destributed by California Pantry gift baskets…but made in China. Then the white teacup & saucer I chose are destributed by Pottery Barn, but still made in China. I suppose I should invest in some local pottery this summer!

Although precolonial Native American’s drank what we now call “herbal tea”, they were made using herbs and berries commonly found at the time. All “true” tea comes from the same plant, called the Camellia sinensis. Any leaf, root, fruit or flower that comes from a different plant is considered an herbal tea. For example, chamomile flowers and peppermint leaves are considered herbal teas because they do not come from the traditional tea plant.

With the colonialization of America, tea became a very popular drink in the colonies, and tea ceremonies were common among all classes. However, because of tea and tea taxes becoming a bone of contention between the Colonies and the British Empire, the 1772 Boston Tea Party episode where the tea cargo of three British ships was dumped over the sides into Boston Harbor and destroyed, tea then became “unpatriotic” to drink and the boycot made coffee and herbal teas far more attractive and affordable to Amercians.

Tea in the United States has always been imported. It may be “adjusted” here in the states to add flavoring and/or custom blends, but the Camellia sinensis plant is not traditionally grown in the U.S. The only two places where it is grown commercially is South Carolina and Hawaii. The production volume is extremely small on a worldwide scale. There are a number of reasons why it is not grown widely in North America including climate, geography, labor costs and history.

Most tea production is associated with more tropical locations with distinct monsoon seasons. Most production comes from India, China, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. However, there are plenty of cultivars that have been developed which allow tea production in a wide range of climates. In fact, the US League of Tea Growers is working to expand tea production in the United States.

So, it was with great anticipation that I opened the tin from Bigelow Tea to hopefully enjoy a delightful brew that was grown right here on U.S. soil.

The first thing I noticed with the scent of the leaves. Those of you who know me well, or read my sporadic tea blog entries, know I love black tea first and foremost. If the tea offered by Bigelow had been a green tea, I may not have ordered it. I like strong, earthy teas and my nostrils were telling me this was a mild, but robust flavored leaf.

I was correct. I let it brew probably 4 minutes, which to my taste was not long enough. For my 2nd brew, I will let it go the 6 minutes recommended for a stronger brew. “Smooth” and “mellow” are words Bigelow uses to describe the flavor and I whole-heartedly agree. Smooth is the one that stuck out to me. It was delightful and one I will enjoy again.

I should also mentioned I don’t use milk or sugar in any tea I drink. I prefer to actually taste the tea without weighing it down with “accessories”. The true essence of the leaf, so to speak.

I commend Bigelow Tea and the work they’re doing at The Charleston Tea Plantation. I’m sure the wacky weather we sometime’s receive here in the states can wreak havoc on the plants. I know the amount of time and the strong work ethic involved with harvesting and producing tea and I’m thrilled we’re doing it in the gold ole U.S. of A.

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