Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Charleston Tea Plantation, Angel Oak

On August 28 I made a trip to Charleston, SC, where I visited the Charleston Tea Plantation, the Angel Oak, the Morris Island Lighthouse, and Bessinger's Barbecue.

The Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island is the only tea plantation in the United States. Charleston's sandy soil, high average temperature, high humidity, and high rainfall are ideal tea-growing conditions. The farm dates back to 1963, but the plants themselves are descendants of ones from a tea farm started in 1888 in Summerville.

The crops resemble manicured hedges because of the way the leaves are harvested - they are trimmed off the top, just as hedges are trimmed. Several trimmings are made each season.

There are two tours offered - one is a trip around the grounds in a trolley for a fee (at $10 it's a bit steep, but I think it's worth it, as you see all the grounds as well as learn a lot about the history and operations); the other is a free tour of the processing facility, where you see the machinery used and watch videos along the way detailing the process. One interesting thing I learned that I did not know is there is only one species of plant (Camellia Sinensis) used for tea; all variations (green, black, oolong, orange pekoe, etc.) are based upon processing methods and gradings, such as oxidation time.

Their custom-built harvester, the only machine like it in the world.

I saw several garden spiders on this trip; this guy was hanging out at the plantation waiting for his afternoon cup of tea; you can see the harvester in the background.

From there I headed back up the island toward Charleston and stopped to visit the oldest tree on the east coast, the Angel Oak, a live oak believed to be around 1500 years old. It is mindblowingly massive!

I then headed out to Folly Island, which was seriously crowded due to a regional surfing competition. I made my way through the crowds to the quiet north end of the island to see the Morris Island Lighthouse. It was completed in 1876 and once stood on Folly Island, but erosion has led to its isolation. Look to its right and you'll see in the distance the Sullivans Island Lighthouse (with its light flashing) that I visited back in April.

And, what would a roadtrip be without a good meal? You may be familiar with Maurice's barbecue empire in the Columbia area - well, his brother runs his own barbecue restaurant in Charleston, called Bessinger's; it's on Highway 17 near the western terminus of I-526. It was some mighty fine barbecue ... better than his brother's. I'd make a trip back just to eat there. It was the perfect way to end a great day of adventuring.


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