Wednesday, December 30, 2009

All aboard the Cutie Express

(Please note, nobody is paying me diddle to write about tea. I'm just talking to you.)

So Mike's parents took us to Charleston for a few days as our Christmas present this year. Isn't that awesome? We just got back about an hour ago and I wanted to write about one thing we did before I forget all the important details. I have the worst memory when it comes to day-to-day stuff. I have to write down what I do every day in my little calendar at work, or else I honestly can't remember my life. And I've been out of my office for a while now, so it's going to be a real challenge trying to catch up when I get back. Luckily Mike can usually fill in the blanks, but that also makes me feel even worse about not being able to remember things.

Anyway. So this morning we went to the Charleston Tea Plantation. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law both like tea, so they wanted to go on a tour of the place. When I found out yesterday that we were going, I was not excited. I don't drink tea, I don't care about tea, and I figured it would just feel like a field trip. Except instead of missing school, I'd be missing out on shopping or sleeping or eating hush puppies. So I was expecting to have a pretty lousy time, while having to feign excitement and interest so as not to hurt Mom's feelings.

But y'all. It was SO interesting. We took a trolley tour around the plantation, and the trolley driver, Bob, was just about the cutest man of all times. He was charming and sweet and made the cutest jokes. He knew so much about tea. Some heifer from Pennsylvania kept asking questions as we were leaving, so I couldn't even tell him how much I enjoyed it and ask if he wanted to come home with us. But also the owner of the plantation, a man named Bill (one of only 28 professional tea tasters in the US, by the way), talked to us about tea via cassette tape throughout the trolley tour. And I SWEAR, that man talks EXACTLY like John Malkovich, which is not easy to do. We never saw Bill, so I'm not fully convinced it WASN'T John Malkovich. But even if you don't find tea interesting, as it turns out that I do, it would still be cool just because of the way Bill talks. And did I mention Cute Bob the Trolley Driver? Who passes out lotion made from the tea for you to try as you start your trolley tour? His wife makes him put it on every time he comes back from fishing.

So here are some of the truly fascinating things I learned about tea today:

1. All tea (black, oolong, and green) comes from the same plant. There's only one plant in the whole world that produces tea, and the different types of teas are simply processed in different ways. Also, tea plants are super eco-friendly because they're resistant to pests and disease so they don't require any pesticides or fungicides, and Bob says even deer don't like to eat the plants, so they don't have a single "predator." Plus the soil doesn't have to be tilled so there's no soil erosion. Tea is awesome. And the part they harvest is just the 3-5 inches from the top of each plant. That's where the tasty tea leaves grow. A tea plant can be harvested every 14-21 days, so the plantation has 20 different fields of tea plants. During harvest season, they harvest one section each day, and by the time they start again, the first one has new growth to harvest! Bob told us there are 3 workers who do the entire 127-acre plantation. ALL the planting has to be done by hand (!!!) and the fields have to be weeded and such by hand. Can you IMAGINE??

2. The tea plantation in Charleston is the ONLY one in all of North America. Tea plants need humidity and rain and a certain type of soil (Bill Malkovich told us tea plants looove rain but hate wet feet, so the sandy soil in Charleston helps keep the roots dry even when it's humid and rainy). The tea they produce is called American Classic Tea, and Bob said that in 2010 they're joining the digital age and getting a website where you can order! In the meantime you have to call to order, I think, and their little html website has the phone number. It's here. They had the raspberry tea for us to sample and oh MAN was it good.

3. Ireland is the biggest per-capita consumer of tea. The Irish drink an average of 9 pounds of tea a year, and Bob told us that one pound of tea makes 200 cups! HOLY CRAP, Ireland. And tea is the 2nd most commonly consumed beverage in the world.

4. 80% of the tea consumed in the US is iced tea. In South Carolina, or at least the part where I live, people don't ask for "sweetened iced tea," they just say "tea." When I worked in restaurants I always knew the non-southerners because they asked for "iced tea," or as Mike's mom still specifies (she's from up north), "unsweetened iced tea." Here, it's weird to drink what we just call "unsweet" tea and not need Splenda or some sort of artificial sugar, and hot tea is just a crazy people's drink. Hot tea. What are you, 100? Carol Brady on Christmas eve?

5. You can decaffeinate your tea! Did y'all know that? This is the single coolest thing I learned today. Here's the text from the little how-to paper:

Studies show that heat releases caffeine. Therefore, you may enjoy your tea with naturally-reduced caffeine by using the following methods:

ICED TEA: Pour cold water over the tea bags- DO NOT BOIL WATER- and let sit overnight on your counter. In the morning, remove bags, add sweetener if you like, then ice and drink! (This is sometimes called "Moon Tea," but you may also leave your tea on counter during the day while you are at work.)

HOT TEA: Pour boiling water over your tea, and let it sit for 60 seconds. POUR OUT THAT FIRST CUP. Then pour boiling water over your tea again, and enjoy!


I love how they tell you that it's sometimes called moon tea, but don't worry y'all you don't have to make it when the moon is out. And the joke at the end just slays me. But isn't that cool? I mean it probably doesn't turn it totally decaf, but how HANDY not to have to buy a totally different kind of tea when you want tea at night but don't want to be unable to sleep. And as Bob says, "maybe you like caffeinated but your spouse likes decaf- this little trick can save marriages!" Oh he was precious. And do you know what's the last thing he said to us? Here it is.

"Well it's been a pleasure driving y'all around. Go get some tea (there were free samples) and maybe buy some to take home, and take back home with you a little of the Charleston philosophy for living. And that's to start the day slowly, and taper off from there."

Seriously, if you are ever in Charleston, you have to go to this place. I think Bob is the only trolley driver, but if he's not, just stand there and wait until he's on duty. And try not to let any chatty heifers on.


Erin said...

My mom used to make Sun Tea, by putting a bunch of tea bags and water and lemon slices in a big jar with the little spigot thingie on it and leaving it on the porch in the summer. I'd never heard of Moon Tea, but I imagine it's basically the same.

My whole extended family thinks I'm nuts because I cannot STAND sweet tea. I have to drink it unsweet, and I prefer it with lots of lemon. I can do a TEENY bit of sugar in hot tea, but just like 4 grains of it.

I'm glad you had fun! Hope you had an otherwise wonderful Christmas as well, and have a lovely New Year's Eve!

Erin said...

I love me some southern sweet tea.
And starting my day slowly and tapering down from there might have to be my mantra for the new year!

Happy New Year!