Did you know there was a tea farm in South Carolina? Okay, besides that very large one in Charleston. There is a smaller tea farm in Pickens, SC which is in the NW part of the state in the mountains. The owner Steve sent me a message on IG recently when he saw my profile and that I lived so close. Well I knew then I would have to go and check it out.
Table Rock Tea is aptly named because it is right next to Table Rock State Park which is home to Table Rock. They are open every day and offer tours twice a day, one of which I had to go on and share with you.
The first stop was the greenhouse. They grow all of their tea plants from seeds, which is a much more labor intensive process than cloning. But a bush grown from seeds will create its own tap root which will let it live much longer than a cloned plant and it will not require irrigation. The seeds are planted in November and kept in a smaller greenhouse inside the greenhouse through the winter and put into their own pots in May. After some time in their own pots (not sure how long) they will be planted in the ground.
The next stop was the tea field. Jennifer, who is the wife of Steve and co-owner of the farm, was the tour guide. She shared how this field was called Lazarus Field because almost all of the plants died in the winter of 17-18, but through a miracle they were all brought back to life and continue to thrive. This is a bible reference (See John Chapter 11 if you are unfamiliar and curious about it). These plants are the only ones that are mature enough to be picked.
All of the tea is handpicked by Steve and Jennifer and they will pick all of the bushes in about 12 hours. They hadn’t yet started harvesting when we visited in late May, which seems late but it is due to the climate. Even though you think of South Carolina being very warm, in the mountainous areas it is actually much cooler and the tea remains dormant for six months of the year.
The next and final stop was the building where the tea was processed and sold. They showed us the withering rack and rolling machine, the bagging machine and the drying oven. Jennifer explained the processes involved with making the different kinds of tea. They also grow and sell many different kinds of herbs. They will also bag any tea or herbs for you with no minimum order required.
Much to my teahead chagrin, almost all of their is crushed and bagged. The entire process is done by hand and with great care but in the end, they say that their customers want the tea in a bag, so they put it in a bag. This made my heart a little bit sad, but I did manage to find one tea that was still in whole leaf form and I will be writing about that one very soon.
The teas included a winter picked green tea, smoked Carolina Lapsang, a dark oolong, chai, a Kenyan black tea, Yaupon, and some herbals. The lapsang was sold out but I will be ordering that one as soon as its available again.
The idea of Table Rock Tea is to be an agritourism destination. With the proximity to the very popular state park, it is in an ideal location. They have some big expansion plans for the future, including plans to continue adding fields of tea and to build a bakery and cafe that sells their own tea. They are taking it slowly at the moment and not doing much advertising because the visitors to the farm buy almost all of the tea that they are able to make. They do sell it online however.
The farm is located in Pickens, SC and the tour is free. You probably want to call or email ahead of time to make sure they will be there and doing tours that day. The farm is also a site of a Hip Camp, if you’re into that.
Steve and Jenn were wonderful friendly people and I wish them great success in the tea business. I hope you will get a chance to stop by and see it yourself. Cheers!