Tea production in the United States
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Camellia sinensis can be grown in warmer parts of the United States and currently the US mainland has a relatively large plantation with full mechanization in Charleston, South Carolina, and numerous small number of commercial tea gardens and smaller artisan operations that currently pick tea by hand. Many smaller sites are looking to mechanize, at least partially, within the next 5 years. Some growers feel that tea production is not viable without some mechanization, but there is evidence that unmechanized tea production is viable, albeit with lower net profit margins. Most domestically grown teas are available through mail order and online purchases. The Charleston Tea Plantation's American Classic Tea brand is carried in Walmart under the American Choice label.
Commercial farms are springing up all across the USA, with producing farms located in the states of South Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Oregon. Off the mainland, there is a collective of roughly 40 small growers in Hawaii. There are also a handful of commercial farms in the process of being developed in the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, New York and Texas, but they have yet reach the point of selling product to the general public on a regular basis. The US League of Tea Growers is an organized tea farming group that has formed in 2013 to address matters related to small tea growing in the USA.
|Consumption per capita||0.53||kg/capita/year|
Domestic supply = Production + Import - Export
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 
Junius Smith succeeded in growing tea commercially in Greenville, South Carolina, from 1848 until his death in 1853. Dr. Alexis Forster oversaw the next short-lived attempt in Georgetown, South Carolina, from 1874 until his death in 1879.
In 1863, The New York Times reported the discovery of tea plants growing natively in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. The New York Times report of natively growing tea plants sparked an interest in cultivating the plants commercially. In 1880 the US Government hired John Jackson, an experienced tea planter in India, to cultivate tea plants planted 30 years earlier in Liberty County, Georgia. When this proved unsuccessful, some 200 acres of land near Summerville, South Carolina were leased for an experimental station, using seeds from China, India, and Japan. A change of commissioners in 1884 resulted in a report faulting the climate as unsuitable, and the Newington Plantation near Summerville was abandoned.
Congress later appropriated $10,000 for a second experimental tea farm in the Summerville area, called the Pinehurst Plantation, located just one mile from the previously terminated effort, and received Patent Office permission to experiment with plants left at the older government station. Under the leadership of Dr. Charles Shepard, Newington Plantation became quite productive; an 1887 'New York Times' report credited annual production at 12,000 pounds. By 1893, the Pinehurst plants were sufficiently established for the first leaf plucking. Dr. Shepard secured laborers for the fields by opening a school and making tea-picking part of its curriculum, essentially ensuring a force of child labor while providing them with an education they might not otherwise obtain. Dr. Shepard's final report indicated the chief expense in the production of tea was the gathering of the leaf, which amounted to approximately 50% of labour costs, but this did not preclude the profitable production of the crop even when sold at prices as low as half the cost of imported leaf. However, domestic shipping rates made selling his tea to major markets in the US difficult. These "made it cheaper for Chicagoans, for example, to buy tea from China than from Carolina" Nevertheless, the Pinehurst produced award-winning teas until Dr. Shepard's death in 1915. The garden closed after Shepard's death and Pinehurst lay unattended until 1963.
In 1963, The Lipton Tea Company, worried about the instability of the third world countries that produce tea, paid to have the surviving tea plants at Pinehurst moved to a former potato farm on Wadmalaw Island. Lipton operated an experimental tea farm until it was sold in 1987 to Mack Fleming and Bill Hall, who converted the experimental farm into a working tea garden. The Charleston Tea Plantation utilized a converted tobacco harvester to mechanically harvest the tea. The Charleston Tea Plantation sold tea mail order known as American Classic Tea and also produced Sam's Choice Instant Tea, sold through Sam's Clubs. American Classic Tea has been the official tea of the White House since 1987. Losing money and nearly bankrupt, in 2003 the plantation was sold to Bigelow Tea Company at a court auction for $1.28 million and was temporarily closed for renovation in order to attract tourists and boost its revenues. The garden reopened in January 2006 and gives free tours to the public.
Like most plantations, each tea plant at the Charleston Tea Plantation comes from a clone rather than a seed to keep plant characteristics controlled. In this factory, black, oolong, and green tea is made; active harvesting takes place between May and October. The hybrid cotton picker/tobacco harvester modified by Fleming is used to harvest from the upper parts of the plants without injuring them, but cannot do so with the precision of hand-picking, necessary for the highest grades of tea. Inside the factory, leaves are placed on a withering bed for 12–18 hours. Natural air blows over the leaves to reduce the moisture from 80 percent to 68 percent. Then the leaves are chopped, sent to the oxidation bed for 55 minutes, then baked in an oven for about 28 minutes. (These times vary slightly depending on the moisture content of the leaves.) Then the sticks and fibers are sorted out and the remaining leaves are packaged.
Table Rock Tea Company, located in the foothills of Upstate, South Carolina, grows and produces tea from seed. Through a collective Consortium, attempts are being made to create a "tea region" in that area of the country.
As part of the Lipton study in South Carolina, an out-station was established in Fairhope, Alabama as well as other select locations in the Southern US. The material in Fairhope was destroyed by a hurricane not long after its inception and was abandoned. However, the out-station supervisor rescued a few, seed and cuttings from which were used to start a private plantation nearby now known as the Fairhope Tea Plantation, owned by Donnie Barratt, the son of the out-station supervisor. Tea is still produced at the plantation in small quantities, sold through a nearby gift shop.
Tea was introduced in Hawaii in 1887 and was commercially grown until 1892. While it is not clear why the tea was eventually discontinued, historians believe higher wages compared to other prime tea growing areas in Asia and Africa were among the deciding factors. Lower production costs of tea's main rival, coffee, also helped prevent it from establishing a foothold.
In the 1960s, Lipton and A&B formed a joint venture to investigate the possibility of growing tea commercially in Hawaii. Both companies decided not to open gardens on the Island, but rather to open gardens in Latin America.
In 2000 horticulturist Francis Zee found a strain of Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, that can flourish in the tropical climate and volcanic soil of Hawaii. A joint study of commercially growing tea in Hawaii was started by University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With the decline of Hawaii's sugar industry, tea cultivation is seen as a possible replacement crop. In 2003, Hawaii had an estimated 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land producing tea but by 2005 that number jumped to roughly 80 acres (320,000 m2). Tea production in Hawaii is expected to triple by 2008.
In 2004, the Hawaii Tea Society was formed from about 40 members, many of whom had started backyard tea farms to promote tea grown in Hawaii.
Tea Farms in development
- FiLoLi Farms in Brookhaven, Mississippi has started tea cultivation and will be marketing soon. FiLoLi Tea Farm officially changed its name to The Great Mississippi Tea Company in May 2014. According to a July 2014 article in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the availability of tea grown in Mississippi might still be a year or two away.
- Finger Lakes Tea Company in upstate New York has also started planting tea plants and plans to have product available in 2016.
- East Texas Tea Company in Mount Vernon, Texas has started tea cultivation in 2009 and sell by private placement.
- Table Rock Tea Company, Ltd. in Upstate South Carolina began cultivation in 2008 and is currently producing tea and offering tours to the public.
- Atealier (formerly East Texas Tea Company) in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho commenced tea growing in 2015 and expanded in 2016 with Nepalese and Sochi seed-stock. The micro climate being moderated by local glacial lakes with soil and water conditions being conducive to tea growing. It will be approx. 2–4 years for commercial quantities are expected to be available for private sale.
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