Chapter XI. American Tea Culture.
During a period of at least 40 years, tea plants have been cultivated by a few experimenters in the southern United states, and American tea, grown South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, has satisfactorily supplied the family needs of a hundred or more persons, at a cost not exceeding the retail price of good foreign tea.
When Mr. Wm. G. Le Duc, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture at Washington, seriously recommended systematic tea culture in the southern States, press writers and press readers found a new subject of mirth and standing jokes which lasted for several years. To be sure, those who laughed so long and loudly did not know the difference between a Chinese tea plant and a China Aster, and few of them had ever heard that in certain tea growing districts of China, ice and snow were familiar associates of the hardy Chinese tea plant. Enquiry would have taught them that here in the United States individual tea plants had for many years withstood a freezing temperature in winter. Better informed persons fell back upon the objection that Americans could never learn the secrets of curing tea, and finally that the very low cost of Chinese labor would be fatal to American competition. But the mills of the Gods grind right along, regardless of individual opinions or precedents. Foreign tea plants have been so acclimatised in South Carolina that a plantation of tea has withstood a winter temperature of zero, the lowest recorded degree for 150 years; the secrets of curing the leaf have been disclosed and successfully practiced by Americans, and a cheap form of child labor for picking the tea leaves has resulted in commercial success for American grown tea.
This result is due to the encouragement of the U. S. Agricultural Bureau, and the persistent efforts of Dr. Charles U. Shepard, at Summerville, S. C., who continued his exertions to found a permanent tea plantation on a large scale long after the Government authorities had ceased to hope for success. In Dr. Shepard's tea gardens the deficiency in rain fall is made good by deep pulverization of the soil and artificial irrigation; the natural shade of jungle or forest under which the seed germinates and grows where the plant is indigenous, is supplied by artificial shade; and the expensive process of picking the leaves is cheapened by employing children, who are paid in money, and also by being taught to read and write in a school maintained on the premises by Dr. Shepard. Machinery has supplanted some of the tedious hand-manipulation of tea in Dr. Shepard's factory, and further progress in this direction is constantly being made.
The Pinehurst tea - for Pinehurst is the designation of Dr. Shepard's plantation at Summerville - sometimes disappoints those accustomed to the strong flavors and pronounced fragrance of some foreign teas, but it contains a full proportion of that stimulating, sustaining constituent of all genuine teas, theine, as consumers all discover. Like our American grapes and wines, American teas will doubtless improve by continuous cultivation upon a given soil, and probably will at length develop characteristics of their own, as precious in the estimation of tea drinkers as those of the exceptional foreign teas.
Impressed by the importance of Dr. Shepard's success, and the latent possibilities of this new field of American enterprise, Messrs. Francis H. Leggett & Co., of New York, have purchased from Dr. Shepard the entire crop of American Pinehurst teas for 1900, amounting in quantity to several thousand pounds.