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The Birthplace of Sweet Tea

Updated on May 14, 2013

Summerville, South Carolina

My hometown has a special distinction. Summerville is the Birthplace of Sweet Tea! Its true, yall. The proof is in the (tea)pot, and my town officially has the trademark to show for it. What could be more southern? Not many things, in my opinion, can top sweet tea in the southern department.

We're only half an hour away from Charleston, and everyone knows there's plenty to do there. But did you know that you might be missing out on a tourist's treat if you don't come to Summerville? Come on a second Sunday, and you can follow the Sweet Tea Trail!

Today, South Carolina remains the only place in the United States where tea has been grown commercially (and successfully). In fact, South Carolina-grown tea was adopted as our Official Hospitality Beverage by State Bill 3487, Act No. 31 of the 111th Session of the South Carolina General Assembly on April 10, 1995.

Sit back, take a sip, and Ill tell you about some of the history and all about the emerging Sweet Tea Trail that you can enjoy when you visit Summerville, South Carolina.

(photo credit: Microsoft free image library)

free stock photo
free stock photo

History of tea in South Carolina

Camellia sinensis is the name of the plant. It's a flowering bush that produces the leaves necessary for a very nice black tea (or a green tea, depending on when it's picked). The plants were brought to the United States in the late eighteenth century and planted at Middleton Plantation, right outside of Summerville. A tea farm was then attempted in the upstate of South Carolina, but failed. The plants were then made to flourish on a farm in Summerville, South Carolina. We can thank a scientist named Dr. Shepard for this. On that site today, there is a lovely residential neighborhood dubbed the Tea Farm. Many years ago, the plants were moved out to Wadmalaw Island, about an hour away from here, and turned successfully into a commercial tea plantation. Biglelow bought it and the Charleston Tea Plantation remains the only place in the United States where tea is grown. Looking to buy tea that's Made in the USA? This is your only option!

Teas from Charleston Tea Plantation

American Classic Tea - Box of 48 tea bags (3.4 oz)
American Classic Tea - Box of 48 tea bags (3.4 oz)

This makes great sweet tea! Grown right here in the lowcountry of SC.

 
American Classic Loose Tea, Island Green Tin, 2.3 Ounce
American Classic Loose Tea, Island Green Tin, 2.3 Ounce

If you prefer to skip the bags and steep your tea the old-fashioned way, the loose tea is wonderful!

 
American Classic Pyramind Teabags, Earl Grey, 12 Count
American Classic Pyramind Teabags, Earl Grey, 12 Count

Delicious. If you like Earl Grey, go for this one.

 
Different variety of camellia, but related to tea plant (photo by me)
Different variety of camellia, but related to tea plant (photo by me)

So what is the Sweet Tea Trail?

And when was the sugar added to tea?

I have read conflicting reports as to which World's Fair ushered the introduction of iced tea - the one in 1893 Chicago World's Fair or the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Either way, southerners were drinking iced tea before either Fair. This is evidenced by the fact that it shows up in some southern cookbooks dating all the way back to the 1830's. What is found is those cookbooks is party punch that is made with tea, but not true sweet tea. What we do know is that sweet tea was served at a confederates' reunion in Summerville in 1890. This predates the World's Fair dates in question.

On the second Sunday of each month, you can take a stroll down the Sweet Tea Trail in Summerville. It consists of antique shops who offer their own favorite varieties of sweet tea to patrons. So, stroll, sip, and shop. And who knows? You might just find an antique glass pitcher that was used to stir up one of the very first batches of sweet tea on this continent ever.

Pedestrian street in Summerville (photo by me)
Pedestrian street in Summerville (photo by me)

Coming soon!

Summerville is in the process of planning a Sweet Tea Festival! Check back here in the future for more updated information on this sweet concept. Summerville also hopes to have a trolley tour up and running very soon. Sweet tea history will surely be in the mix for that!

How do you like your tea?

Sweetened or unsweetened?

The more sugar the better!

The more sugar the better!

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No sweet stuff for me . . . just tea straight up.

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  • KnitnPurlGirl 4 years ago

    I'm a Canadian but when I travel to Florida I love to order unsweetened tea every time I'm at a restaurant!

I'm a southern author.

Sip your iced tea while you read my collection of short stories!

Are you a tea drinker?

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      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      I usually drink unsweetened iced tea, but there is something special about sweet tea when we are in the south!