Most people know that the Boston Tea Party was a precursor of the American Revolution. When King George III levied a tax on tea, the colonists, disguised as Indians, dumped the tea still on the ship into the Boston Harbor.
I recently reread a book that I read years ago called Johnny Tremain. Although a work of fiction, many parts of the book mirror history. As they prepared for the tea party I could see how this act of sedition led to the all-out war for independence. The tea tax was just the vehicle to begin the quest for an independent nation.
As July 4 approaches I want to share with you a little bit about the crop that led to the revolution.
At that time all tea was imported. It is said that the drink itself was discovered in China when some leaves from the camilia sinenis plant fell into boiling water.
The trafficking of tea led to the invention of Clipper Ships. These speedy ships allowed the tea from China to be transported to Europe a great deal faster.
The colonies grew no tea so it had to be brought to the U. S. via England, their homeland. It was not until the 1800s that tea companies brought some plants to the U. S. to see if they could get them to grow.
The U. S. does boast two important contributions to the tea industry. At the St. Louis World's Fair a vendor added ice to his hot tea and ice tea was born. Nearly 85% of the tea consumed in the U. S. is served as ice tea. The U. S. is the only country where ice tea is popular.
The other U.S. contribution is the gauze tea bag. A salesman decided to put his tea samples in little gauze bags to take around to the stores. The bags made tea easy and convenient to serve. Tea is second only to water in popularity around the world. Six billion pounds of tea are produced annually worldwide. This makes it the largest agricultural crop employing a multitude of people.
On my trip south I had the privilege of visiting a relatively small tea growing facility. It is the only farm that grows tea in the U. S. When you are the only farm doing what you are doing, there is no mechanized equipment. The American Classic Tea Co. boasts a harvester that was custom made by them and the only one in existence. It cuts off the flush, the term used for the new growth on tea plants. Although other countries harvest tea, the terrain in those tea growing countries does not lend itself to this machine.
The tea farm, located in South Carolina not far from historic Charleston, has 150,000 tea plants many of them originally planted in the 1800s by the Pinehurst Tea Co. and the Golden Grove Tea Co. It is not unusual for there to 8-10 cuttings annually. This particular southern climate is ideal for growing tea with annual rainfall of about 75 days plus temperatures that soar past 100 degrees F.
Tea plants are naturally disease and insect resistant to allow for an all-natural growing process. The day we visited workers were in the field pulling weeds prior to harvest. The farm was to host "The First Flush Festival" the next weekend. Most of that tea is spoken for before it is ever harvested. Loyal customers order it in advance.
All types of tea are made from the same plants. The process for curing determines the different varieties such as green oolong, and black teas. Approximately five pounds of fresh leaves equal one pound of finished tea. The whole process takes about twenty hours from start to finish.
There is no decaffeinated tea here. It is in the brewing process that the level of caffeine can be regulated since heat releases the caffeine. To make ice tea, pour cold water over tea bags and let sit overnight. In the morning remove the bags and add ice. For hot tea, pour boiling water over tea and steep for one minute. Pour out the first cup and repeat the process with the same loose tea or tea bag. You now have "lightly caffeinated" tea.
Tea is good for you because it contains a large amount of antioxidants that boost the immune system.
On our tour of the grounds we saw tea growing and being harvested. We also saw the machines used to dry the tea and process it.
Most tea that you are accustomed to having is more than a year old. Fresh tea tastes different. It is lighter in color as well. We were treated to samples of fresh tea as we visited making it easier to choose the tea we wanted to purchase.
If you enjoy ice tea at your 4th of July picnic, raise a glass in tribute to the courageous men who fought for this country's independence.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at email@example.com