The Real Paul Jones

Accept no substitutes

My Tea Bush

After decades of wanting to have my own tea plant, I now have one.

We were out in the Camellia Forest when I noticed a sign pointing toward “Tea.” I remembered then that tea is a camellia, camellia sinensis in fact.

Years ago I tried to find tea plants for sale. The nurseries that I asked looked at [or talked to] me like I was crazy. Who would want a camellia with small flowers? One that was bushy and leafy instead of large flowered — and, they told me, no one wants to grow their own tea. It’s too cheap to just buy it. Still I wanted my own tea plant.

I tried to find the remains of what in the 1970s was the only tea plantation in North America. The Pinehurst Tea Farm in Summerville, South Carolina outside of Charleston was home to award winning oolongs in the early part of the 20th century. But by the 1970s, the Tea Farm has become a highly desirable development — and still is as these listings show. At the time, I tried to speak with the Summerville Chamber of Commerce folks at the Plantation, but they only wanted to talk real estate and to say that the plantation part had failed several times.

Now with a little searching I find that a new tea plantation is open outside of Charleston. The Charleston Tea Plantation was recently bought by Bigelow Teas which not only has the plantation working but sells their American Classic Tea. On May 12, The Charleston Tea Plantation will be celebrating the First Flush of the new leaves on their bushes and trees.

I’ll miss the flushing this year, but it’s nice to know there is still tea being grown commercially in America.

My little bush is out defying deer now and will be there for a couple of years before I get more than maybe a cup. But I’ve been trying since the 70s, so what’s another year or two?


  1. Have you tried growing yaupon, Paul? It’s not tea, but Ilex vomitoria makes a decent hot, caffeinated beverage. And it is native to North Carolina.

  2. Paul

    4/23/2007 at 9:38 am

    The Black Drink always scared me. Not least of all because of its name, Ilex vomitoria aka Vomit-inducing holly. I know, I know the vomiting was learned (so they say), but hey camellia sinensis has been down in SC for well over 100 years. Longer than many of our families have been here in NC.

  3. That is so cool Paul. I wonder if we have the climate to crow coffee beans too? Hmmm… home grown caffeine!

  4. I read this post just after I came back from drinking a pot of tea at 3CUPS. Great post, Paul, and thanks for the tip about SC tea.

  5. Yaupon will only make you blow chunks if you drink too much of it. Camellia will do the same thing in quantity. But I confess: The specific epithet vomitoria was bad marketing fromt he start.

  6. Paul

    4/23/2007 at 9:14 pm

    You have tried both of these for the vomit effect? You are definitely fit to be Mayor of Carrboro!

    BTW according to USDA maps, Yaupon is only native or naturalized in NC coastal counties. USDA shows Camellia sinensis in four Southeastern states including NC, but there are no county details available. I suspect that this is for all camellias not just sinensis.

  7. You should really come and visit the Charleston Tea Plantation…you don’t need the First Flush celebration to enjoy! Thanks for the mention and if you can’t vist live, come over to our blog to learn more about tea,


    Valorie for Bigelow Tea

  8. Hey Paul, very exciting to see your tea plant is withstanding the deer. Do let us know how your tea experiment goes, i.e., did it survive the drought and heat this summer?

    Feel free to come by the nursery some time if you want to learn more about how to make your own tea. I’ve been plucking tea and making it from plants in the nursery, and it is just so amazing and the smell of drying down tea is absolutely yummy. I’m really excited that we’ve started our own tea garden for holding workshops and pickings for the local community. May take a couple years to mature, but soon we’ll have more tea than we know what to do with…

  9. Sipping a cup of yaupon tea right now made from one of many yaupon trees in my back yard. It’s the berries that are emetic not the leaves and young stems. This is the perfect time of the year to harvest the new tender leaves and growth once you have about as much as you can hold in a hand you have enough for a cup of tea. I microwave mine for about a minute and half then put the dry leaves and stems in a pan and to the oven till they just start to brown barely. Then I grind it up with my “Magic Bullet” and it’s ready for tea.

    Before writing it off you really should try it the taste is remarkably like real tea. I actually prefer it. And it does not make me the least bit nauseous.

  10. I have brewed and drank Yaupon tea with no ill effects, just a caffeine high. I planted a dwarf youpon outside of my front door in Cary. It’s native range may be on the coast, but it’s a common foundation plant all over the Triangle.

    There is a book “Black Drink” on its history. The USDA tried to turn it into a cash crop earlier in the century with no luck, sold or gave away the dried tea and Yaupon pop at a Charleston fair. I think I got the book from the UNC library, but their search engine is locking up on me right now.

    Many plants get a false reputation for being poisonious, but Vomitoria may be the only one that had the reputation get into it’s latin name.

    Here is the scene of the crime, where William Aiton named it:

    Aiton cultivated it in his garden a Kew. Aiton never traveled to America. Note that the old common name was “South Sea Tea”. Note that Aiton credits Mark Catesby who sent the specimen from America.

    Also called Spanish Tea. There are records that the Spanish at St. Augustine got cranky when the natives failed to make regular deliveries of the tea leaves as they were contracted to do – caffeine withdrawal, I guess.

  11. steve forehand

    3/1/2009 at 1:41 pm

    Just curious…where can I find a documentation supporting the USDA participation with yaupon as a cash crop? Thank you.

  12. USDA research on yaupon is discussed (with citations) in the book “Black Drink” pp 154-155:

    also available in the UNC library.

  13. paul…
    where did you finally find tea plants for sale?? i live in coastal nc….transplanted from hawaii where i am a member of the royal hawaiian tea society… i would appreciate any info on 4-6″ potted plants

  14. Paul

    4/5/2010 at 9:34 pm

    I got my tea bush from Camellia Forest just west of Chapel Hill. All their contact info and catalog are at the link above.

  15. Dear Paul,
    I am a Tea Planter in Bangladesh, and would like to set up a small Tea Garden in South Carolina or Hawaii.Will you help me to do the same ?

    Best regards,

  16. No.

  17. I am interested in growing stimulant plants, and have tea and yaupon in my yard here in Virginia. Most of my tea plants are from Darjeeling and Korean seed, and I have few few from Camellia Forest.
    In fact, the Darjeeling plants they offer came from seed we bought together. Some varieties are not hardy this far north (zone 7a), and some will have leaf damage during the winter but regrow in the spring.
    I have made tea a few times, and the results were good. My plants have been in pots until this year, when I finally had land to plant them on. Hopefully in a few years, I will be able to make enough tea for my families use.

    Yaupon tea can be quite tasty, and like Camellia has different tastes with different preparation. I fiound yaupon in a local park and was able to remove some suckers underneath the crown for transplanting in my yard. I harvested new growth from these plants and dried in in a warm oven. When preparing tea, I first pan roasted the ground leaf till brown, then I add water and bring to a vigorous boil and allow to cool. It has a fragrant taste that lingers in the mouth for a long time, and leaves a clean feeling in the mouth. It is a smooth stimulant, and clears the throat.

Leave a Reply

© 2018 The Real Paul Jones

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑