Charleston is one of those places you can visit over and over again; each time finding a different experience. It’s our third trip here and we are on the hunt for something beyond the downtown historic district.
Roughly 20 miles southwest of the lively city, the bucolic Lowcountry of Wadmalaw Island lies along the water’s edge. It is home to the Charleston Tea Plantation, now known as the Charleston Tea Garden, the only working tea plantation in North America.
With its high humidity, rich soil, and plentiful yearly rainfall, this corner of South Carolina is the ideal location for tea.
What to Expect on Your Visit
Towering oak trees and flourishing pink azaleas welcome us to the grounds. Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy the southeast during springtime?
We drove up from Savannah and the blooming flowers were all over the city, adding a stark contrast to the dark ironwork throughout the neighborhoods.
After purchasing our $15 trolley tour tickets at the gift shop, we have a half hour to take a look around.
Free tea samples, hot and cold, are planted inside the gift shop so we grab a cup and mosey onto the back for the factory tour.
VISIT CHARLESTON ON THE CHEAP:
Learning a Whole Lot about the Tea Process on the Factory Tour
The Charleston Tea Plantation factory tour is a brief self-guided tour designed to show you how tea is made. I must admit before our visit I knew absolutely NOTHING about tea!
And I am a tea drinker.
Only a glass window separates us from the factory floor where the magic happens. Albeit a short introduction, the video and signs teach us a great deal about the process from start to finish.
If you’re looking for another beautiful city in the state to visit, check out Beaufort, South Carolina.
Once the tea bushes reach maturity and are ready to harvest, the big green machine hovers over and cuts the tender tea leaves on top.
From there, they are brought into the factory to begin the withering stage.
Because the leaves have 80% moisture, they have to be laid out on a bed to wilt some of them away. Then the leaves hit the grinder to rupture the cell walls to expose the tea juices to the air.
The length of oxidation, how long the tea is exposed, is what determines what kind of tea you make.
This is where the leaves create their rich flavor. For instance, black tea which is stronger in flavor spends 50 minutes on the oxidation bed versus 15 minutes for oolong and 0 minutes for green tea.
It’s time for our trolley tour so we head out back, but not before filling another cup of free tea. “Maybe I’ll try Rockville Raspberry this time,” I inform my husband as he is trying shot-size samples. I realize he is taking this whole “free sample” thing as a challenge.
I think his goal is to try each and every one by the time we leave.
Waddy the Frog
As we wait to board the trolley, I take a break off my feet next to the tea-loving mascot, Waddy the Frog.
Charles “Frog” Smith, a local sculptor, custom-made Waddy for the plantation. His name comes from the location on Wadmalaw Island.
LOOKING FOR WAYS TO SAVE:
The Trolley Tour
Man O’ War – the trolley for the tour – slowly pulls in and opens its doors.
Our guide, standing at the entrance, is asking each person where they are from as they enter. He has a little fun fact for each city that is proclaimed.
He never skips a beat!
It’s apparent immediately that he enjoys his job. He has a lighthearted nature with a smile on his face to match.
And on to the Greenhouse, We Go
With over 5,000 tea plants an acre, sprawling green rows of shrubbery line the 127-acre plantation. In fact, the guide tells us we will be passing hundreds of thousands of tea bushes on the way.
As the trolley closes its doors and we start moving the founder of the tea plantation, Bill Hall, comes over the speaker. While we circle the tea fields, we learn about the history of the plantation, more about the tea process, and how the plants are grown.
Then, we take a short break at the greenhouse to see the fledgling tea plants as they begin to form roots.
Before leaving, we stop back in the gift shop to buy some souvenirs for my tea-drinking family members. I make note of the adorable tea sets by the register as I was checking out. I wish we still had youngins in the family; they would make the perfect gift.
If you are looking for a unique thing to do near Charleston, this may just be your cup of tea! If you decide to get off the beaten path, add Firefly Distillery, the largest distillery in the state, and the Angel Oak Tree, one of the oldest living trees east of the Mississippi, to your itinerary.
Keep scrolling for more pictures and information!
When is the Best Time to Visit the Charleston Tea Plantation?
The plantation is open year round with something going on every season:
Winter: Harvesting season is over and the plants are dormant but tours are still given.
Spring: Flowers are blooming and the harvest season begins in May.
Summer: The peak time for harvesting and production.
Fall: Harvesting and production end around the end of September, the beginning of October. The flowers from the tea plants bloom and millions of butterflies arrive.
No matter what time of year you visit, try to plan your trip during production hours so you can see the action firsthand.
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Charleston Tea Plantation Hours
The Charleston Tea Plantation is open seven days a week from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Mondays through Saturdays and 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM on Sundays.
Know Before You Go –
- Address: 6617 Maybank Highway, Charleston, SC
- General Admission is FREE, there is only a charge for the trolley tour.
- Trolley Tour lasts for 30 – 40 minutes.
- If you are using a rideshare like Uber, make arrangements for a ride back beforehand. It can be difficult once you reach the plantation.
- The plantation is closed for some major holidays.
Looking for Other Places in the Southeast to Visit?
- CUMBERLAND ISLAND, AMERICA’S UNSPOILED JEWEL
- 5 IRRESISTIBLE REASONS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH TALLAHASSEE
- EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCE SWIMMING WITH MANATEES
- 7 GREAT SOUTH CAROLINA BEACHES
Have you ever visited Charleston? What was your favorite thing to do?
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