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In Pictures: Having a ‘tea-riffic’ time at America’s only commercial tea farm in Charleston
By Tom Adkinson
August 18, 2023

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – The tea that makes the refreshing glass of iced tea you enjoy in August or the warming cup of hot tea you savor in January almost certainly came from somewhere other than the U.S. – unless your pleasure comes from the Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island, about 25 miles outside Charleston. It is the only place tea grows commercially in America. Tea plants came to South Carolina in the 1700s, but commercial success was elusive. Not until 1888 did American-grown tea become a reality, and the plants you see today on a farm and factory tour came from that 1888 endeavor.

All aboard for a tea tour

charleston tea garden
Open-air trolleys roll through a substantial portion of the Charleston Tea Garden’s 127 acres of Lowcountry farmland. The acreage was a potato farm until tea plants were introduced in 1963. Image by Tom Adkinson

Neat rows carefully trimmed

cultivated tea plants
Visitors view row after row of carefully cultivated tea plants. When spring arrives every year and new growth appears, a custom-built machine rolls over each row and clips several inches off. The process is repeated every six or seven weeks until growth slows down in late autumn. Image by Tom Adkinson

Everybody meets Waddy

green frog sculpture
Waddy, an appropriately green frog sculpture, is a perpetual greeter on the Charleston Tea Garden’s front porch. His name comes from the tea farm’s location on Wadmalaw Island. You are likely not to realize you even are on an island, since only a small stream separates this land from “mainland” South Carolina. Image by Tom Adkinson

Manual air-conditioning

Charleston Tea Garden fan
Even young riders on a Charleston Tea Garden trolley tour get the joke printed on the hand fans available to passengers on hot summer days. Image by Tom Adkinson

Taste to your heart’s content

tea canisters
Canisters of various tea varieties are lined up for sampling. Both hot and cold teas are offered, and you are welcome to enjoy as much as you want. If you bring your own picnic lunch to enjoy on the visitor center’s porch, you don’t have to worry about bringing beverages. Image by Tom Adkinson

‘I’m a little teapot . . . ‘

The gift shop at the Charleston Tea Garden in filled with teapots, mugs, dishtowels, decorator items and plenty of packaged tea. Image by Tom Adkinson

The first cut is the best cut

first flush tea
Expert tasters at the Charleston Tea Garden say that each year’s first cutting, which they called the first flush, has a distinctive flavor and is the best of the season. Packaged first flush tea commands a premium price. Image by Tom Adkinson

Trip-planning resources: and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on

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