Tea is primarily grown in hot areas; southern China, India, and Kenya are the top producers in the world. But, hey, we here in the States have hot weather, too. And some farmers in Mississippi decided to take advantage of their climate and attempt to get into the tea business, the state's first such farm.
All true teas come from a single species of plant, Camellia sinensis and include black tea, green tea, white tea, and teas that are primarily made of leaves of C. sinensis but with some flavors added (think jasmine tea, or Earl Grey). Crafting different types of tea depends on how you process, dry, and treat the tea leaves, and also depends on what stage of life the leaf is in when you pick it. (Sorry, peppermint tea, chamomile tea, and ginger tea; you all are made from material from some other plant entirely.)
But regardless of the huge variety of types of teas, it all comes back to that one plant. And that plant tends to prefer hot, moist climates, typically tropical areas—although some teas grown at higher altitudes are prized as more intense. (That’s due to the tea having to struggle to get all its nutrients from a less forgiving climate; it tends to concentrate flavorful aromatic oils and compounds in the leaves.)
Lately, though, we’ve started to see that good ol’ C. sinensis is hardier that we ever expected. Some teas are now grown as far north as the UK, where Cornwall has emerged as a potential producer of some very fine teas. And down south, in Lincoln County, Mississippi, Jason McDonald and Timothy Gipson have started a tea farm of their own. It’s not the first American tea farm; there are a couple dozen in Hawaii, one in South Carolina, and a few in the Pacific Northwest. But it’s always worth noting a new entry, and this is the first in Mississippi.
The farm, now titled The Great Mississippi Tea Company (great name, we have to say) was constructed with help from nearby Mississippi State University agricultural experts. Bromwich Tea, an American tea producer, will be handling the production of the raw leaves from the company, which is about to start its very first harvest. From September 14 until October 9, the first crop will be picked and processed and samples will be available soon after, though there’s no word yet as to wider availability and price. But we’re excited to see whether American tea can live up to the rich global history of the beverage.