Percentage of tea consumed in the U.S. as iced: 80%
Percentage of tea consumed in South Carolina as iced: 99% - and I am certain that close to 100% of that is “sweet tea”, the default in the south.
Charleston Tea Plantation is exactly the type of place I like to visit WITHOUT Odel. Being a tea drinker and a gardener, this place neatly combines two of my interests – and none of his. As I dropped him off at a nearby golf course, he was happy to wave goodbye as he headed to the pro shop and I headed off down the road.
I wound my way 15 miles down the Maybank Highway, to Wadmalaw Island, one of the many sea islands in this area of South Carolina. Huge trees crowded the road, dripping Spanish moss. Azaleas and dogwood sparkled against the many variations of green alongside the road, and traffic began to thin and slow. By the time I turned into the driveway of the Charleston Tea Plantation, the southeastern springtime had worked it serene magic.
I was the first visitor this morning, arriving at 10 am as the gates were opened. By 10:20, I was out on the trolley tour – just me and the driver/guide! We meandered the sandy roadway of the large plantation slowly, the guide teaching me about tea, what the plants like (heat, humidity and water, all of which this area has in abundance), how it is grown and harvested, and the history of the plantation.
The most amazing thing he told me: it take just 19 people to run the business and, of those, only THREE to tend and harvest the plants! The machine used for harvesting is the only one of its kind, custom made, and one person does all the harvesting.
Back at headquarters, I took the video-guided factory tour. No processing going on today (the first harvest of the year won’t be for another 6 weeks or so), but the video screens were informative as I walked along big windows next to the processing equipment. Five pounds of fresh tea leaves yield 1 pound of processed tea in an amazingly quick and simple procedure.
By the time I had spent another half hour wandering the grounds, rocking in a comfortable chair on the front porch while I sampled iced teas, and shopping in the very well stocked gift shop, the parking lot had filled. Time to be on my way. I opened the sunroof, popped in a CD, and continued on down Maybank Highway, just “taking a drive”.
When I was a kid, growing up in southern California and then Oregon, “taking a drive” was something we did for entertainment. We might go to a park, or to the beach… or to a waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge, where we ate our picnic lunch in the car while we watched the rain. Once we “took a drive” on Christmas morning to see the flooding going on in Portland, where we lived at the time! These days, “let’s take a drive” still sounds (usually) like fun – as it was today, driving down the road with my windows down, the scents of roadside blossoms and fresh sea air filling the car.
A couple more miles brought me to the end of the pavement, when a sand road continued on… the “what have you gotten us into now” point for Odel, who was blissfully unaware of his Jeep’s tires leaving pavement. :) Another mile and the road ended at a dock populated by shrimp boats and a decrepit shed, sea gulls screeching and a fat old lab wagging his tail in interest at the sight of something new in his world.
I turned around, turned on the GPS, and tapped “attractions”. Up popped “Angel Oak”. Hmmmm. I’d passed a sign with that name on it on the way to the tea plantation. Off I headed. Another dirt road, another mile, and I turned into Angel Oak Park. Wow!
The Angel Oak (named after the Angel estate on which it stood) is estimated to be over 1,500 years old, one of the oldest living organisms east of the Mississippi. East of the Mississippi? I had to wrack my brain to figure out what might be older west of the Mississippi… ah, yes, redwoods, and bristlecone pines.
Still, the Angel Oak is mighty old, and beautifully impressive. It’s longest branch is 89 feet; as you can see, many of the branches are propped up or supported, and some just lay on the ground. Again, the experience was serene and relaxing, wandering around this ancient being on a perfect spring day.
Just before I left the Angel Oak, Odel called to say he would be finished with his golf game in half an hour. Perfect timing! I drove past the 18th fairway just in time to honk at him as he approached the green. Today, a good time was had by all. :)