Down near Charleston, SC, is a small tea garden known as the Charleston Tea Plantation. The garden has an exquisite albeit expensive assortment of black teas for sale – as with many things, you get what you pay for.
Since first stumbling upon this rare treasure I’ve ordered a few tins of loose leaf tea via phone (the website isn’t well developed) and have been pleasantly surprised by the Governor Gray and Plantation Peach varieties in particular. The First Flush tea is also good, though prohibitively expensive.
Most Americans are more comfortable with tea bags – these are available directly from the website. Bagged tea, while convenient, tends to be of a lower quality than loose leaf in general; so I’ve not tried these.
Charleston Tea is the only black tea I drink now. However, I only drink black (and oolong) tea for the caffeine to start my day, and it’s a shame Americans and Southerners have forgotten the other teas since WWII, a war which has long passed. Green and white teas are better in the evening and with meals, and it’s these I primarily drink (mostly Chinese green since white is expensive). From aforelinked site:
1879 – The oldest sweet tea recipe (ice tea) in print comes from a community cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia, by Marion Cabell Tyree, published in 1879:
Ice Tea. – After scalding the teapot, put into it one quart of boiling water and two teaspoonfuls green tea. If wanted for supper, do this at breakfast. At dinner time, strain, without stirring, through a tea strainer into a pitcher. Let it stand till tea time and pour into decanters, leaving the sediment in the bottom of the pitcher. Fill the goblets with ice, put two teaspoonfuls granulated sugar in each, and pour the tea over the ice and sugar. A squeeze of lemon will make this delicious and healthful, as it will correct the astringent tendency.
So, iced tea was at one time commonly made with green as well as black tea.
Tea, especially when left unsweetened, is a healthy alternative to alcohol and the modern soft drink, and as such it is worth redeveloping by Southerners – black and oolong are also more pleasant than bitter coffee. Iced tea is of course an important cultural feature of the South, but so too is tea in general. Around South Carolina there are various tea rooms which are not all New Age or East Asian oriented – some continue to be British oriented.
Rather than allow our tea culture to be remade into a New Age image, we should strike back by renewing and further developing our own tea heritage. The tomato doesn’t originate in Italy, nor the potato in Ireland; Tea doesn’t have to call us to China.