The Charleston Tea Plantation is located on Wadmalaw Island in Charleston County, South Carolina. Wadmalaw Island is an island roughly ten miles in length and six miles in width. The Island is situated southwest of the Charleston Peninsula. It is located on Maybank Highway (SC 700).
In the early 1960s, the Thomas J. Lipton Company purchased land on Wadmalaw Island and built a research facility dedicated to the growth of tea plants. The company was attempting to cultivate plants that were previously at the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina. At the time, the property on Wadmalaw Island was the only functional tea plantation in the country. The Lipton Company was dissatisfied with the results of the operation and sold the property in 1987 to Mack Fleming and Bill Hall. Fleming was formerly employed by the Lipton Company. The new property was named the Charleston Tea Plantation.
Fleming had previously devised a mechanical harvester to aid in the selection of crops. He also holds a master's degree in horticulture. Hall is a third generation tea-taster who studied teas in London. Sarah Fleming McLester, Mack Fleming's daughter, was also employed by the new plantation. Fleming and Hall developed a tea they called American Classic.
The tea is created from the Camelis Sinensis plant, which is a black tea leaf. The production of the tea differs from that of Oolong tea due to the time it is left in the oxidation bed. The process used to create the tea takes roughly 20 hours. This tea was named the official tea of the United States' White House. In May of 1995, Fleming and Hall were special guests during the South Carolina General Assembly Session.
In 2003, the Plantation was sold to R. C. Bigelow, Inc. for $1.28 million. Bigelow restored and expanded the plantation. They also reopened the property to the public in January of 2006. Since Bigelow took over, the tea plants have produced more each harvest than the preceding year. In 2008, the first American Classic Green Tea was produced and available for sale.
In July of 2009, Bigelow distributed 100,000 boxes of tea to U.S. soldiers serving overseas. The boxes were specially designed and featured the tagline: Thank You For Your Service!
The 127-acre plantation is home to several hundred thousand tea bushes. During the growing season, approximately 5,000 pounds of tea leaves arrive at the factory for processing. The new factory features an air-conditioned window gallery that is 125 feet long. This gallery overlooks all the manufacturing equipment. There is also a gift shop.
The plantation is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm year rounds. On Sunday the plantation is open 12:00pm-4:00pm. The plantation receives over 30,000 visitors each year. Touring the factory is free, but there is a $10 charge for trolley rides per person. There is an understanding that guests will not leave without purchasing tea in the gift shop. Additional information about the plantation can be obtained by calling 843-559-0383, and tea orders can be placed with Bigelow by calling the same number.