The Emerging US League of Tea Growers

TWEET: Can you imagine a time when the United States could become a major source of premium specialty tea?

Ask most tea drinkers about their primary sources of tea and you are likely to hear mentions of China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and other Asian and African destinations. Could you imagine a time when the United States was named as readily as these? There is a group of tea growers, researchers, and enthusiasts who are trying to make that a reality.

Jason McDonald of FiLoLi Farms in Brookhaven, Miss. and Nigel Melican, CEO of Teacraft Ltd., have recently announced the creation of the U.S. League of Tea Growers. They are working with farms in thirteen states that are already growing tea. “Only by linking the disparate growers from Hawaii to Mississippi, from Oregon to Florida, can we achieve the critical mass to forge the new methods upon which real commercial success will depend,” says Melican. The states where tea is currently grown include Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington state. A new farm is organizing in Waterloo, New York as well.

The first meeting of the League is slated to occur during the 2013 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. In the meantime, they are organizing around 18 goals which include:

Raising the visibility of tea growers in the States,
Encouraging growth and production of premium specialty teas,
Amassing a library of information relevant to growing in this country,
Providing technical support to other growers who are considering tea as a viable crop, and
Engaging in extensive research to support the industry.
The underlying assumption is that the individual farmers will be encouraged to develop their tea growing programs independently, in a way that supports their personal goals, but with access to strong science, research, and technical support.

While there are many facets to their approach, one critical component is a scientific evaluation of the varieties and cultivars that have the greatest potential to be successful given this country’s climate. Mississippi State University has begun a process of collecting and analyzing a wide variety of tea plants.

But why American grown tea? Organizers of the US League believe that there would be substantial interest in tea that is grown with fewer pesticides, less risk of heavy metal contamination, more controls on labor practices, and a shorter shipping distance, but also with specific attention to American palates.

Melican is enthusiastic about the potential for this group. “There are more people interested in growing tea in the U.S. than ever before. To be successful in a high cost economy, tea growing has to be different here — high tech and automated, backed with R&D and American ingenuity. Niche production and boutique marketing of desirable and unusual specialty teas has to be the goal.”

Katrina Ávila Munichiello

©Mystic Media 2013

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