The Charleston Tea Plantation, now a subsidiary of R. C. Bigelow, Inc., grows tea in the United States of America.


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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[2] Losing money and nearly bankrupt, in 2003 it was sold to Bigelow Tea Company at a court auction for $1.28 million[3]and was temporarily closed for renovation it in order to attract tourists and boost its revenues. The garden reopened in January 2006 and gives free tours to the public [4].

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.[5][6]

From the Wikipedia page [1]

The Charleston Tea Plantation is located about twenty miles south of Charleston, South Carolina on Wadmalaw Island. Owned by the Bigelow Tea Company, it grows the tea sold under the brand name American Classic Tea from the Camellia sinensis plant. The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only working tea plantation in the United States and is open to the public for tours of the grounds and factory and for hosting private events. Every year they also host the First Flush Festival celebrating the beginning of the harvest season.

In 1799, French botanist, Francois Andre Michaux, brought the Camellia sinensis plant to the United States and gave it to Henry Middleton. They planted the tea at Middleton’s plantation. The tea seemed to thrive in areas like Charleston and Georgetown. It took many attempts by multiple companies and individuals to successfully establish a tea company without an early failure. These failures included plantations in Georgetown, Greenville, and Summerville, the longest of which lasted less than twenty years. The Thomas J Lipton Company decided to give it a try. In 1960, they bought the failing tea plantation in Summerville and in 1963 they moved out to Wadmalaw Island and operated a research station for about twenty-five years. The Charleston Tea Plantation, as it is known today, was established in 1987 when Mack Fleming and William (Bill) Barclay Hall bought the land and the research station from the Lipton Company. Mack Fleming, a horticultural professor at Trident Technical College, had been running the plantation for the Lipton Company, while Bill Hall was a third generation tea tester from England. Along with establishing the plantation, they created the American Classic Tea brand. This tea is still grown at the plantation as of 2012 and the brand continued even though the Fleming-Hall partnership did not last past 2003. They had some differences in opinion on how to run the plantation and ran into trouble when profit margins began to drop. The plantation was put up for auction at this point, where the R.C. Bigelow Company in Connecticut bought it for $1.28 million. Bill Hall joined Bigelow at the plantation and keeps it running and growing the tea to sell across the United States. The Charleston Tea Plantation was opened to locals and tourists to visit and tour the grounds and the factory.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Franklin PM, Mikula N. Backroads of South Carolina: a Guide to South Carolina’s Most Scenic Backroad Adventures. Voyageur Press, 2006 ISBN 0760326401 p. 37
  2. article on American Classic tea
  3. USA Today April 11, 2003
  4. Bigelow Tea website information
  5. Watch it Made in the USA page on Charleston Tea Plantation
  6. article on growing tea in the U.S. and Charleston Tea Plantation in particular.

Company website

The Charleston Tea Plantation website is