A growing number of North American farmers from Mississippi to British Columbia are growing tea for the high-priced specialty market. Here are five things to know about tea farming.
Tea is the world's No. 2 beverage, behind only water, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., Americans drank more than 3.6 billion gallons of tea in 2015, nearly all of it — 85 percent — black tea.
KINDS OF TEA
Leaf buds and leaves are withered and fermented to make black, Oolong and green tea. White tea is hand-processed from leaf buds alone. Its taste is delicate.
Dark teas are the most fermented, and generally are sold as compressed bricks or pellets rather than loose. Pu-erh, one sort of dark tea, was illegal to import into the United States until 1995.
All tea comes from the same plant species: Camellia sinensis. Hundreds of varieties have been cultivated for properties such as ability to withstand cold or heat. Grower Jason McDonald of Brookhaven, Mississippi, says a good tea master tastes freshly picked leaves to tell which kind of tea to make from each harvest. "You're taking it from ... a really nasty-tasting leaf and turning it into a really good tea," he said.
Unlike many crops, tea has a long harvest season, with new shoots that can be harvested every two to three weeks. An established plant can produce for a century or longer, McDonald said.
The U.S. is often credited with inventing both iced tea and the tea bag. Tea was an ingredient of chilled punches well before the 20th century, and recipes for non-alcoholic iced tea date back to the 1860s. Tea bags apparently were a refinement of a popular home practice of tying loose tea into cheesecloth for what the New York Times described in 1895 as "a cleanly method of making tea."