Charleston, South Carolina has a lot to offer, beaches, history, live oak trees, and water activities galore, but did you know Charleston is also home to the United States’ only tea plantation? The Charleston Tea Garden, formerly the Charleston Tea Plantation, is just 30 minutes from downtown and makes for a perfect half day trip from Charleston. Explore the interesting world of tea making with a relaxing afternoon at a South Carolina tea garden!
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Is the Charleston Tea Garden the same as the Charleston Tea Plantation?
As one of the thirteen original colonies, South Carolina has had plantations basically since day 1.
The Charleston Tea Plantation is not one of those plantations.
The Charleston Tea Plantation and the Charleston Tea Garden are the same place. The tea farm was established in the 1960’s, well after the end of slavery, and it was named plantation after the romanticized term common across the southern United States.
The owners recently changed the name to garden in 2020, in recognition of the pain the term plantation can cause for some and to better represent the farm’s history, which never involved slavery.
If you’re looking for a historical plantation to visit, these are the 5 best plantations to visit near Charleston. Each of these includes representation of the slaves that once lived and worked there.
Where is the Charleston Tea Garden?
A short 30 minute drive southwest from downtown Charleston, the Charleston Tea Garden is located on Wadmalaw Island off of SC Route 700.
Other Sites Nearby
Johns Island’s famous Angel Oak Tree, an enormous, centuries-old live oak tree, is about 15 minutes away from the Charleston Tea Garden.
You’ll pass it on your way in and out from the tea plantation. It’s a great photo opportunity if you’re already in the area but note there is an entrance fee and it’s a popular and often crowded stop.
Nearby, Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island are also out here, following much of the same route southwest from Charleston. While the tea plantation and Seabrook look close on the map, note that there is no direct vehicle access across the marsh and coastal waterways at this point.
It’s another 30 minute drive from the heart of Seabrook Island to the Charleston Tea Garden, as you have to drive north back out to SC 700 and then back south to the tea plantation.
Charleston Tea Garden Hours of Operation
Open 7 days a week in all four seasons! Closed only for major holidays. See their list here.
Hours of Operation
- Monday – Saturday: 10AM through 4PM
- Sunday: noon through 4PM
Do I Need a Ticket? How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Charleston Tea Garden?
Entry is FREE for the Charleston Tea Garden! The visitor center & shop and the Factory Tour are all complimentary, and you may wander the grounds within the designated areas near the visitor center.
Trolley tours require a paid ticket. The fee covers costs to run the trolley buses and ensures everyone has a seat on the trolley. Adults are $14, Children ages 4-11 are $7, and ages 3 and under are free.
The Trolley Tour is worth the nominal fee for access to the farm. Learn the history of the tea plantation, witness the day-to-day operations, and discover the life cycle of a tea bush with a visit to the greenhouse. Trolley Tours last about 40 minutes.
Getting to the Charleston Tea Garden
Driving is always an option. However, if you did not bring your car or rent a car for your Charleston vacation, that’s ok!
There are many tour companies that provide day trip tours to the Charleston Tea Garden. The tour companies will pick you up from your hotel or agreed upon pickup point, and transport you and your group to and from Wadmalaw Island in comfortable and air-conditioned charter buses. Many tours also include a stop at the Angel Oak Tree.
Rideshares (Uber, Lyft) are NOT recommended. You can probably find a ride out to the plantation, but finding a ride back downtown is very difficult unless you arrange it in advance. The Charleston Tea Garden is far enough out of town and away from other tourist attractions that you’re unlikely to find a return driver waiting for a customer.
Fun Fact: Wadmalaw Island is an unspoiled environmental gem. Commercial development is largely prohibited to preserve the pristine coastal environment. There is only one bridge connecting Wadmalaw Island to the surrounding area.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Charleston Tea Garden?
Each season has its own reason to visit the Charleston Tea Garden.
- Spring sees the tea plants coming back to life and the first flush of leaves after winter makes a unique tasting experience. Azaleas are also in bloom around the property.
- Summer is full-swing production time. Harvesting is staggered to keep the workload manageable throughout the season.
- Fall features cooling temperatures and the last of the harvest. When the tea plants are done for the season, they bloom beautiful white flowers that look like popcorn covering the fields.
- Winter has the coolest temperatures of the year and the quietest time to visit.
No matter when you visit, you’ll leave with a new appreciation for this tea!
Did You Know? Tea plants are naturally disease and insect resistant, so no harmful chemicals are used. Even the weeding is done by hand before the custom-made harvester comes through! They care about their plants!
History of the Charleston Tea Plantation
Did the Charleston Tea Plantation Have Slaves?
The Charleston Tea Plantation was first established in the 1960’s as an experimental farm. Therefore, slavery was never a part of the plantation. It wasn’t until very recently (2020) that the company changed their name to the more sensitive Charleston Tea Garden to better represent their history.
Beginnings of the Charleston Tea Plantation
The first experimental tea bushes planted at the Charleston Tea Plantation site were cuttings from tea bushes on an abandoned farm in the nearby town of Summerville. That farm was called Pinehurst and those tea bushes were imported from China by a private farmer, Dr. Shepard, and planted here in South Carolina in the 1880’s, after the Civil War.
Once Dr. Shepard died in 1915, the tea bushes were abandoned and severely overgrown by the time the experimental farm was established in the 1960’s to research tea growing possibilities in the area.
William Barclay Hall bought the experimental farm in 1987 and transformed it into a working, tea-producing farm. Mr. Hall is a tea taster, officially trained for four years in the United Kingdom. (We all know how seriously the British take their tea, so that’s a big deal.)
Mr. Hall established the farm and the “American Classic Tea” brand, rapidly expanding as he experimented with the various types of tea bushes and determined which would thrive best here.
The South Carolina climate happens to be perfect for raising tea bushes, normally restricted to Asia, South America, and parts of Africa. The American Classic Tea brand is the only tea in the world made with 100% USA-grown tea leaves.
The Charleston Tea Garden Today
In 2003, Mr. Hall partnered with the Bigelow family of The Bigelow Tea Company to expand the Charleston Tea Garden’s reach. Charleston Tea Garden tea now comes in nine different flavors, including the original American Classic Tea.
Mr. Hall still lives on the property and oversees the farm’s day to day operations.
What to See & Do at the Charleston Tea Garden
The Visitor Center
Enjoy complimentary all-you-can-drink tea tastings while perusing the shop’s wares. All nine varieties of the Charleston Tea Garden tea are available for purchase in either tea bags or as loose leaf. Various kitchen and tea accessories are also available, as well as cold drinks and snacks.
The Factory Tour begins in the back right corner of the shop. The free tour starts every 15 minutes and does not require tickets. Large windows provide up close views of the factory floor and the machinery used to process the tea leaves from off the truck all the way through to the final product.
The tour is video-guided. Enter the first hallway and the first video screen overhead will begin explaining the machinery and process. The video guide will tell you when to move down to the next screen where it will continue its narrative for the next part of the tea making process.
Trolley Tours, as noted above, require a small fee and reserve a timed ticket for you. Tours last about 40 minutes. The trolley guides are knowledgeable and enjoy their jobs!
You’ll learn the difference between black, green, and oolong teas, as well as the complete history of the plantation and the life cycle of a tea plant at the Charleston Tea Garden. This tour is well-worth your time!
Exploring the Grounds
You are welcome to explore the grounds and take photos of the tea bushes, the fields, and the custom-made tea leaf harvester. Don’t miss the World’s Largest Cup of Sweet Tea photo op, as well as the closest tea plantations sign.
Get your picture taken with Waddy the Frog on the Visitor Center front porch, or just sit and enjoy a rocking chair for a bit.
Group Tours and School Tours
Group tours can be accommodated by contacting the Garden ahead of time through email. Group tours will see everything the Garden has to offer, including the Trolley Tour, and boxed lunches can be included for an additional fee.
Enjoy a day trip to the Charleston Tea Garden for a one-of-a-kind experience you’ll never forget!