WADMALAW ISLAND, S.C. -- Green-yellow tea plants reach into the distance at the Charleston Tea Plantation as a green harvester slowly makes its way down one row, gently cutting the youngest leaves from atop the bushes to make them into American Classic Tea.
The only commercial tea plantation in North America is again in production and on May 11, began officially welcoming visitors again to see how tea is processed.
"What we have here is a gem," said William Hall, a third-generation English-trained tea taster and partner in the plantation.
"I would hope that over time this will become a destination for a lot of tea drinkers and that it will bring a considerable number of people into Charleston," added David Bigelow, co-chairman of the board of R.C. Bigelow Inc., the Connecticut tea company that purchased the plantation at auction in 2003. The company spent three years restructuring the plantation into an operation and a tourist attraction.
Visitors are able to take a tour through a spacious new production building where large-screen monitors explain how tea is processed from green leaves to the finished product.
As many as 50,000 visitors are expected this year, Bigelow said.
The plantation also has a gift shop selling items such as videos on how tea is made and teacups and teapots. The company would also like to add a restaurant at the plantation, Bigelow said.
"We didn't buy it originally for tourism. We did buy it just to save it; we truly did. We just couldn't let the only tea plantation in America die," said Lori Bigelow, Bigelow's daughter and the company's co-president. "It was for the country and it was for the tea industry."
Bigelow, a family company that was started in Connecticut in 1945, is probably best-known for its "Constant Comment" tea, an orange-spice blend.
Tea at the Charleston plantation is harvested from late April through October, with the harvester gathering in a day what it would take 500 laborers to do by hand.
When tea is not being processed, visitors will still be able to walk through the production facility, see the equipment and watch the monitors to see how tea is made.
The property on rural Wadmalaw Island is about 20 miles west of Charleston. The plantation is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and noon-4 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to bigelowtea.com/act or call 843-559-0383.
All you need is 'Love'
The combination is as incongruous as a yellow submarine: a revolutionary rock band, a stilt-walker's creation and a casino. This, folks, is that ever-evolving experience known as Las Vegas. A Cirque du Soleil show based on Beatles songs opens July 2 at the Mirage Hotel and Casino, marking the first time the corporate overseer of the group's music will be a partner in an outside production. The production will feature more than 24 Beatles songs, accompanied by Cirque's convergence of acrobatics, aerial artistry and dance. Tickets for the show will range from $69 to $150.
The best of the beaches
Fleming Beach Park, a mile-long, crescent, white sand beach on Maui's western shore featuring spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged shores of Molokai Island, was named America's best beach in an annual list compiled by beach expert Stephen Leatherman. Fleming got the nod for its year-round sunny weather, scenic views, pristine waters and amenities such as showers, snack bar and ample parking. Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, Fla., was the runner-up to Fleming, followed by Ocracoke Island in North Carolina; Coopers Beach in the Hamptons on Long Island in New York; Kauai's Hanalei Beach; Main Beach in the Hamptons; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod, Mass.; Coronado Beach in California; Maui's Hamoa Beach; and Barefoot Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Fla.
The cats are back
Thirteen big cats - from a rare black jaguar to a trio of young snow leopards - are enjoying new digs in Philadelphia after some time away at other zoos. The Philadelphia Zoo has opened Big Cat Falls, its new $20 million habitat, which is designed to give the animals a more natural setting and visitors a more intimate experience. The exhibit features games, video clips and other tools to describe the threats humans pose to big-cat species around the world. It's the first new exhibit at the zoo since 1999. Details at philadelphiazoo.org.
Golf Digest's Best Places to Play (Fodor's, $24.95)
This book is 834 pages and weighs as much as a cinderblock, but it's also a comprehensive guide to 4,000 public and resort courses in North America, making it worth the heft. Courses are rated in terms of affordability, setting, length, difficulty of play, etc., all with the daily-fee golfer in mind. In Maryland, 110 courses are listed, with designations for new courses and courses considered the best value for the money. (Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace is the only course with a five-star rating in the state.) Avid and casual golfers might also enjoy the book's listing of "America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses," as well as its list of "Best New Upscale Public Courses" and "Best New Affordable Public Courses."
GEAR & GADGETS
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