How sweet it is! Charleston tea plantation, your weekend paradise escape

I’ve always wanted to visit the Charleston Tea Plantation, America’s only tea garden and this Spring I finally made it! Nestled in the picturesque Wadmalaw Island, the plantation is a short drive from both downtown Charleston and Folly Beach.

Come to the First Flush Festival at Charleston Tea Plantation

We made it to Americas only tea garden!

Things to know before you go
You can tour the indoor tea factory for free or take the $10 (free for kids under 6) trolley tour around the farm.

The plantation is open daily 10AM to 4PM (noon on Sundays), except on major holidays.

Although the Charleston Tea Plantation started in 1987, its roots go way back.

In the 1700’s the Camellia Sinensis tea plant first arrived in the United States from China in an attempt to produce the exquisitely aromatic tea.

It only took about 150 years…In 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard managed to produce the first American grown tea on his Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, SC.

In 1963, Shepard’s tea plants were transplanted from Pinehurst to a 127 acres potato farm located on Wadmalaw Island.

State of the art machinery on display at Charleston Tea Plantation

Here comes The Green Giant!

This farm eventually became known as the Charleston Tea Plantation.

Every Camellia Sinensis plant growing on the grounds today is direct descendant of Dr. Shepard’s 1888 crop, making the Charleston Tea Plantation a living part of American history!

The trolley tour lasts about 20 minutes. You listen to a recorded audio that goes over the most interesting aspects of growing tea.

The trolley makes frequent stops so you can take pictures, and have plenty of time to marvel at the charming garden, serene irrigation ponds, and blooming rows after rows of tea plants.

Charleston Tea Plantation facts, trivia and tips

Picture perfect spot from the tea trolley

I feel jolly on the trolley!

• This is probably one of the most eco-friendly plant farms in the world. They use no herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and consequently there is minimum soil erosion.

• The plantation is not only organic but very high tech. They have designed their own fully sustainable irrigation system and the Green Giant tea harvesting machine…truly unique in the world!

• Did you know that green, black and Oolong tea all come from the same plant? The difference is in processing: green tea leaves, once harvested go straight to drying, and within minutes, are sorted, then put into bags or let loose.

• Tea plants, once mature are very sturdy and resilient and can live for hundreds of years!

• A cup American Classic Tea contains half the amount of caffeine than the average cup of coffee. To reduce the caffeine in hot tea try the following: Pour boiling water over your tea and let it sit for 60 seconds. Pour OUT that first cup (heat releases caffeine), then again pour boiling water over the tea and enjoy!

• To get the best flavor and lower caffeine iced tea, pour cold water over your tea bags (DO NOT use boiling water!) and let it sit overnight at room temperature. In the morning, remove your tea bags, add a sweetener if desired and serve over ice.

See how tea is made

The self guided free factory tour

The self guided factory tour is free and takes about 15 minutes. You watch video on a TV screen about each major step in the tea producing process: harvesting, withering, maceration, filtration, oxidation, drying and packaging.

Note the tour may be boring for young children (mine ran up and down the corridor)…

It gets more exciting during the harvesting season, May through October, when visitors can see all the big machines in action!

Once done with the tour, enjoy all you can drink fresh-made tea or shop for one of kind gourmet items at the Shoppe. Make sure to get the American Classic Tea sampler box, featuring six delicious varieties of loose leaf tea in the staple pyramid bags.

Indulge in most delicious green and black Southern tea

Yummy, yummy in the tummy!

Health benefits of green and black tea
• Great source of antioxidants
• Promote cardiovascular health, higher bone density
• Help reduce body fat
• Have no carbohydrates or calories

Irrigation pond

High tech, eco friendly and so, so beautiful...

Best time to visit the plantation is during annual First Flush Festival, which this year is on May 16, from 10AM to 6PM. The first flush is when the most fresh, flavorful and aromatic tea is produced. There will be great music bands, art, local cuisine, and fun kids games.

Festival tickets are $15 until May 1, $20 until May 16, and $25 at the door on the event day. Kids 6 and under get in FREE.

Family fun attractions in the area
• The 1,500 years old, gigantic Angel Oak Tree on John’s Island
• The romantic Morris Island Lighthouse, one of the most revered historic landmarks on the Charleston Harbor
Folly Beach, featuring one of the best surfing and fishing spots on the Atlantic Coast.

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A heart felt return to Old Sheldon Church

On my second visit to Beaufort and the “Palmetto Phoenix Church” I discovered touching stories of love, passion, freedom and despair.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Old Sheldon Church view as you come in the yard

The heart-breaking loss of a child…

“I’ll weep no tears upon the grave
Where lies my darling out of sight
God has but taken what He gave
And made my child a Seraph bright
He early tastes the promised bliss
And shall I, Can I, weep for this”

Front view

Old Sheldon Church Ruins - front view

The rite of passage at St. Helena Episcopal Church in Beaufort…

In 1734, Captain John Bull (brother of William Bull who helped built Old Sheldon Church) gave a silver Communion service in memory of his first wife who dissapeared during the 1715 Yemassee masacre. The chalice, paten and tankard, engraved “The gift of Captain John Bull to the Parish of St. Helena” are still used today on special occasions.

Both John and his second wife Mary are burried in the Sheldon Church graveyard.

1771 Mary Bull tombstone

1771 tombstone of Mary Bull, John Bull's second wife

The Stono Rebellion… (excerpts from PBS article “Africans in America” and Beginningsfrom USC Press)

In September 1739 a group of African slaves led by an Angolan named Jemmy, seized weapons near the Stono River south of Charleston and began to march towards Florida shouting “Liberty!” They burned and plundered plantations, taverns, and shops killing about 20 whites before stoping to rest for the night at Edisto River.

Entrance to the extended parking lot across the road

Entrance to the extended parking lot across the road


The carriage of Lieutenant Governor William Bull crossed paths with the rebels. Bull ordered his driver to get him back to Charleston where he called out all available white militia. The militia and the rebels fought a pitched battle near Jacksonborough.

The better armed and trained militia defeated the slaves and roughly 40 whites and 60 blacks died in the melee.

The response to the rebellion proved swift and brutal. Travelers on the Old Post Road (present day US Hwy 17) would have seen the heads of the rebels placed on pikes up and down the route.

The loyal devotion…

As you rest your body and spirit under the lush oak trees remember Biz and Bill Campbell, who for over 75 years cared with deep love for these sacred grounds.

Romantic picnic at Old Sheldon Church

Romantic picnic at Old Sheldon Church

The church is located on Old Sheldon Road between Beaufort and Yemassee, about 2 miles from the intersection of Hwy 17 and Hwy 21. A free public service is held each year on second Sunday after Easter. Call (843) 522-1712 to inquire about reserving the church yard for personal events or wedding celebrations.

Come as you are, leave as you wish!

50 feet, 10 dollars and 5 minutes of Heaven (things to do on James Island near Charleston)

Last month I had a defining moment. Got laid off with little explanation, a smile and no hand-shake. So what better way to celebrate then taking on a 50 feet rock climbing wall at James Island state park despite the fact I’m terrified of heights?

The truth is I always wanted to do this. You know we all have the “10 places to see or 10 things do before we die”. So I drove myself to the James Island County Park which claims to have the highest outdoor rock climbing wall in South Carolina. See already on my way to breaking records!

It was Tuesday afternoon and that was a very good choice. There was nobody around but 2 staffers busy laying out some new climbing routes. David – 6 feet tall, dark curly hair, boasting a slender body fit as one might expect, smiled and came to greet me. “This is a good sign” I said to myself.

I signed a waiver, filled out a short form and paid the 10 dollars fee. That’s right only 10 dollars for all you can climb! David handed me the harness and lead me to the rock were he immediately proceeded to lay out the ropes. Things were moving too fast. My heart pounded heavily and I started to regret my decision. “I’m a little nervous” I said “haven’t done this before. Any pointers?” “Keep your hands above the feet and don’t look down. Don’t worry; I put you on the kiddy run. It’s the easiest around” replied David. Great! The vote of confidence made me feel much better.

I was hoping there was some rule against an emotionally disturbed rookie climber that would have put an end to this. No luck. David brought me back to reality “When you’re ready say ‘On Belay’”. ‘On Belay’, what the heck that means? So without much of a fanfare or an audience I started my quest to bravery and self-esteem.

My plan was simple; keep moving, maintain at all times a 3 points contact with the rock (got this tip from a Romanian friend 15 years ago…finally got to put it to use) and, as my guide just advised, don’t look down. It was going unexpectedly well when my left sleeve got caught in a jug. I jerked my arm furiously few times trying to escape. All of the sudden I felt very tired. For some reason all I could think about was that famous guy who had to cut his wrist to save himself. Luckily for me and my wrist I finally managed to let go. Back on track.

Minutes later I reached the summit (yeah baby, “THE SUMMIT”!). All along I had visions of myself grandiosely declaring my victory with something profound and inspiring like “Veni, Vidi, Vici” or at least a Rocky style fists pumping. Yet all I could come up with was a pitchy “How do I get down from here?” “Grab the rope coming from your harness and lean backwards” David said “I’ll take it from there”. Easy for you to say, buddy. You know I skipped the “trust thy co-workers and let thrust thyself into their hands” team-building class. With not much of a choice I reluctantly grabbed the rope, closed my eyes and slowly squinted down at a 90 degrees angle. I’m sure was a pretty sight to see. The descend was a gentle slide down thanks to my quiet guide below.

The whole thing took little over 5 minutes. I ended up grasping for air, bruised on my knees and elbows and so exhausted that I could barely move my arms to remove the harness. But now I know what Heaven must feel like.

Did I mention they are open year around?