Locally Sourced Teas In The U.S. Are Steeping

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A visit to Boulder Colorado for a tea enthusiast means a trip to the Celestial Seasonings tea factory is in order — a popular attraction, it turns out — where visitors can tour a tea factory sourcing both local ingredients and teas from around the world, with final products sold across the US. Families and couples of all ages maneuver through the production factory prior to ending at the tea sample station where favorite flavors like Madagascar Rooibos and Lemongrass herbal tea are offered, in addition to some lesser known samples which utilize catnip, mint, and other herbs.

The appreciative palate for tea, which stretches throughout the globe, is rooted in Asian culture. In fact, among tea-producing nations, countries like China and Japan are generally the first to come to mind. Oolongs, greens, blacks, and herbal teas from these countries are being sold around the world.

While tea’s history is rooted in Asia, in the last 10 years, new American tea plantations have sprung up across the country. These tea plantations allow for companies, such as Celestial Seasonings, to forge a path for American tea enthusiasts to indulge in a variety of locally sourced teas.

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The allure of tea in many parts of the world is its versatility, which explains the popularity of certain teas in some regions. Within the United States and Great Britain, Earl Grey tea, which is a blend of black tea with citrus oil has notable popularity. And in the US, sales of iced tea, particularly sweetened iced tea, have exploded across the country.

Considering this increased interest in this delicious and versatile drink, where exactly are US tea plantations found? According to the U.S. League of Tea Growers, a collaborative organization committed to increasing the number of domestic tea production, there are 60 farms scattered throughout 15 states — including California, Hawaii, South Carolina, and Washington. Interestingly enough, the tea scene in the Americas has bloomed only in the past twenty years. Prior to the 2000s, US tea farms were few and far in between.

The next question we can ask, then, is why have plantations in America? According to Jason McDonald, a member of Great Mississippi Tea Company who plans to initiate a tea plantation, tea plants need sufficient heat, humidity, adequate rainfall and acidic soil — hence why he chose Mississippi as his plantation site.

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Along with the Southeast, the Pacific Northwest is particularly suited for growing tea, due to the region’s temperate, humid climate. In addition, Jason also notes that specific varieties of tea plants, along with climate, soil integrity, and elevation factors allow for unique and enhanced flavors in tea varieties.

Finally, Hawaii has seen a massive boom in tea production. The volcanic islands have the perfect conditions for many small leaf varieties of Camellia sinensis — the tea plant, and farmers have brought tea production techniques from China, Japan, and India to the islands.

While America’s place in the world tea market appears to just be taking root, there is steady reason to believe that we will continue to see an increase in tea production within the private and public tea sectors. The demand for tea in the US is growing. In 2016, the US was ranked the third largest importer of tea in the world. Not only is the US growing in imports, but also in consumption — Americans consumed about 84 billion servings of tea in 2016 alone, which means that on a given day, about half of Americans consume tea, with the most popular choice being iced tea.

Since many herbal teas and plants are native to US, there has been an increase in commercially grown and produced herbal teas. Specifically, Northwestern states, such as Washington and Oregon, provide peppermint and spearmint for use in herbal teas.

So what does this all mean for the future of tea production in US? Thus far, there are several programs and initiatives dedicated to increasing tea plantations in the US — such as the Mississippi Tea Project Grant. Combined with the steadily increasing demand for tea, tea plantations have a promising future on US turf.

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