Solo Travel for Introvert Ratings
Sensory Calm (5 / 5) – Charleston Tea Gardens is a very slow-paced and peaceful place with beautiful quiet nature.
Solo-Friendliness (5 / 5) – The tour happens in a common trolley and is solo-friendly
Commute Friendly (3 / 5) – You need to come by car and if you book a ride-sharing app, then make sure you pre-arrange the return journey.
Predictability (4 / 5) – Fairly predictable, and detailed instructions are provided on the website. (https://charlestonteagarden.com/)
Safety (5 / 5) – Completely safe.
Nerdy stuff – (5 / 5) – A lot to learn about tea farming and manufacturing.
What and Where
The Charleston Tea Garden is a property on Wadmalaw Island, to the South-West of Charleston, South Carolina. It is, currently, the ONLY tea producing farm in all of North America.
A small 40 minute drive away, it has several tours for learning about tea growing and manufacturing, and is a beautiful place to just stroll around.
As I drove away from Charleston, and off the freeway, the roads quickly became isolated. Shaded by the dense canopy of oak trees, which made it dark to see even at noon, I could only get an occasional Church steeple or a cemetery peaking at me where the woods gave away.
There is a tiny sign to enter the property and as soon as I drove in, l had to stop my car and capture the moment. The entryway was paved with lines of oak trees whose branches arched in a natural tunnel, guiding the road ahead.
As I drew up to the front desk and the gift-shop, I decided to take the trolley-tour first and enjoy strolling through the premises later. Our tour-guide was a jovial woman oozing Southern hospitality whose energy could rival a summer camp guide or a PE teacher. She drove us around the tea farms explaining the history of the place with puns such as “This won’t take too oo-long” thrown in.
She made conversation with all folks and we spoke about how I had visited Darjeeling in India where the tea farms are terraced on a hillside instead of being on a flat terrain like here. She let us know that the Charleston Tea Gardens’ history goes all the way back to when tea first came here from China, and has changed hands many times, including owned by Lipton. The proerty is currently in the hands of the Bigelow family, who also produce Bigelow tea. However, the tea grown here, is always sold under the name of this place.
Tea farming here doesn’t use seeds, but instead, use grafting to propagate new plants. This ensures every plant here is an exact genetic clone of the very first plant brought here on American soil from China. This guarantees consistency in taste and flavor.
A unique innovation here from Lipton times is the “Green Giant”. This machine is a cross between a cotton-picker and a tobacco-harvester that runs above rows of tea-shrubs and cuts the young leaves at the top. This is one-of-a-kind machine that has eliminated the need for manual tea-picking – which is still the norm all over the world.
Tea Factory Tour
Once the trolley-tour was over, we headed to the Factory Tour which is behind the reception. The first step of tea-processing is “withering”, which is to remove any moisture.
The next step in preparation of strong black tea, is called CTC or cursh-tear-curl – to make a stronger and bitter brew from a smaller amount of tea leaves. CTC-style black tea is popular in the US, the UK, India and many parts of Africa, while countries like China and Japan prefer gentler black tea which is only mildly bruised.
There are several machines for the CTC process, and we were able to see maintenance on the Rotovane during our tour. This machine has a rotating shaft that keeps tearing the leaves.
The last stage is oxidation, and the amount of oxidation determines whether the tea is green, oolong or black. Black tea has the highest oxidation and is produced by heating the crushed tea at high temperatures in a controlled environment.
Relaxing and Shopping
Once the trolley tour and farm tours were done, now was the time for relaxing. The gift center has dispensers for free unlimited hot and iced tea. I grabbed a cup ands sat down at the rocking chairs on the porch looking out into the gardens. There is a giant tea cup on the farms, informing that the Charleston Tea Garden holds the Guinness Book of World Record for the world’s largest cup of sweet tea made.
From the gift-shop, I ended up buying Tea flavored candies, a tin of loose Charleston Tea, and bags of Bigelow’s signature secret recipe ‘Constant Comment’. This was Mrs. Bigelow’s personal recipe with orange rind and sweet spice, and when served in afternoon tea, generated ‘constant comments’. The flavors are well-balanced, and unlike most available versions of Earl Grey, doesn’t overpower the tea itself. Within the range of affordable everyday black tea, Constant Comment would be my number one pick too.
Other Nearby Attractions
These other places were suggested to me by the 2 friendly ladies at the counter, but I didn’t have time and have saved them for my next visit.
Deep Water Vineyard – For wine-pairing with Southern food, under oak trees.
Angel Oak Tree – A colossal oak tree, perhaps one of the largest and oldest trees in this part of the US, with such a large diameter that the branches have hung on their own weight and touch the ground.