USLTG Meeting Recap

Thank you to Elyse Petersen of Tealet for playing the official photographer role!!  Great things to come!

Thank you to Elyse Petersen of Tealet for playing the official photographer role!! Great things to come!

As many of you are aware, we held our second official USLTG meeting at World Tea East yesterday (10/21/13).  We thank each of you for coming out, supporting the growth of US grown tea, and participating in vital building block discussions.  For those of you unable to attend, here is a recap of the main discussion points of the meeting:

  1. Bylaws were reviewed and areas of concern were discussed and passed with some revisions that need to be made/agreed upon by the Board. The board will take all of this under advisement and will revise the bylaws to meet the views as discussed in the meeting.
  2. The due structure will be $20.00/yr for active members and $15.00/yr for all other categories.
  3. Interim elections were held for the Board of Directors.  The people listed below will act in this capacity until formal elections can be held (approximately 6 months out):

President: Jason McDonald
Vice President/Treasurer: Ken Rudee
Atlantic Coast Chapter Representative: Christine Parks (NC)
Gulf Coast Chapter Representative: Bob Simms (AL)
Pacific Coast Chapter Representative: Elyse Petersen (HI)

As we continue to support this vast world of US grown tea, we hope that you will consider joining us on this journey!  We look forward to hearing from those of you unable to attend!

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T-shirts…Last One I Swear!

USLTG Womens T

Alright.  I think we’ve got the t-shirt situation handled and it was painless!  A huge thank you to Rob for setting up a page dedicated solely to USLTG supporting merchandise (mugs, t-shirts, etc.).  Profits from any of the products sold will be used to further the mission of educating, informing and encouraging the growth of camelia sinensis in the United States.  More items will be added in the near future and we will gladly take your suggestions!

Personally, I’ll be rocking that long sleeve “tea” at the gym this winter!  –Naomi Rosen

http://usltg.spreadshirt.com/

Growing Tea In Cooler Climates

Camellia Forestby Christine Parks 

At Camellia Forest, we have been collecting, growing and selling tea plants for over 35 years. Many tea varieties used in industry are proprietary, representing a substantial investment of efforts at breeding for cultivation. By contrast, our mission has been simply to make tea available to meet a broad range of interests; from curious tea lovers or avid gardeners, to a South American grower starting a new tea plantation. We offer many varieties for people to test, still only representing a small fraction of the diversity worldwide.

Indeed, Camellia sinensis originated in southeastern China, one of many types of Camellias cultivated over the centuries for form and function. Naturally growing in subtropical to temperate regions, Camellias are generally found as an understory bush or small tree. However, Camellia sinensis is grown for tea around the world under a wide variety of conditions. Two main varieties are cultivated  – Camellia Sinensis var. sinensis and var. assamica – the former is typically in more temperate regions and the latter better adapted to the tropics.

High elevation subtropical mountains in places like Taiwan, Southern China, or India are thought to provide the optimal conditions for tea production. The best climate for tea production in the U.S. is going to the “Camellia Belt” of the Southeast and southern states, where there are no comparable mountains at such low latitude. But many opportunities exist to diversify and extend our efforts northward, where cooler temperatures can yield high quality and delicious teas. We already know of tea being successfully grown in the Pacific Northwest and Virginia, for example.

Finding tea varieties that grow reliably in regions in cooler and more northern regions of the U.S. will require a good deal of trial and error. A good place to start is with those varieties previously selected to grow in colder climates, such as the small leaf var sinensis from more northern regions in China, Japan or Korea. Sochi tea is another hardy variety selected to grow along the Black Sea in one of most northern tea plantations in the world, established in 1905. All are flourishing here in our garden in the central piedmont of North Carolina.

One of our small leaf tea varieties has been rated to zone 6b. It comes from seedlings planted in the UNC Coker Arboretum from the 1910’s to 1930’s from plants that may have originated in Japan. We know this variety is cold hardy based on a natural experiment in 1985, when they survived a sudden deep freeze in North Carolina. With the coldest temperatures down to -9 degrees Fahrenheit, most (but not all) Camellias in our collection were killed down to the ground. This was one of the survivors.

That said, before investing in acres of tea production, trials are needed, including several different varieties, clones and seedlings. Testing requires well-established plants (i.e., growing well on site for at least a few years); only then can they truly be tested for cold hardiness. We are working to crossbreed our cold hardy varieties with other favorites in our tea garden, but it will take many years of growth and observation to identify which of these crosses might survive similar temperatures.

While trials are still needed to determine the optimal plants for different areas in North America, it may be wise to resist the temptation to simply seek only the best cultivars for tea production. Given the realities of climate change, we need to consider the value of diversity as we adapt and trial new varieties for cooler or more northern regions. It may be that the average temperatures will rise, but at the same time, greater short-term variability could be a challenge to determining what features are best suited for long-term tea production in any one particular region. One of our priorities at Camellia Forest is to collect and preserve diverse tea varieties, to provide choices for trials, and preserve these resources for future generations.

The question of where tea will grow productively is not only a matter of temperature, of course, since the timing of first flush and growing season will depend on both climate and day length. Even if the plants survive for several years, one must consider the matter of spring frost. Plants are more tender and susceptible when they first put out their new growth in the spring. Not only can one cold night ruin the first harvest, it can kill the plant entirely!

In our gardens here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, we have been growing several “tender” tea varieties for years (and in some cases, decades), with plantings in sheltered locations under a light pine forest or along a tree-lined field. Clearly, this is not the typical model of a tea plantation, with acres of tea planted in mostly full sun. But smaller farms might use hoop houses or frost blankets, or, as in Japan, large fans can be placed in the fields to circulate air on cold nights to protect the new growth from late frosts.

In sum, many factors will contribute to successful tea cultivation – not only the genetic background and photoperiodic requirements of the plant, but also the temperature averages and extremes, soil qualities (such as pH, nitrogen content, and drainage).  We can push the northern boundaries of where tea is grown in the U.S. by choosing the right plants and by using old and new technologies, along with knowledge of local topography and micro climates. Given the time required for proper trials, a certain degree of patience and persistence is also a clear requisite.

Ours is only one experience and set of opinions, in the long history of tea selection, carried out over centuries. We welcome your thoughts, questions, suggestions for helping to support the growing “local” U.S. tea movement of the early 21st century!

USLTG Meeting Announcement

Atlanta mapOur next meeting of the US League of Tea Growers will take place on Monday, October 21st from 3:30 – 4:30.  Thank you to World Tea East for providing us a room (A313) at the Georgia World Conference Center and supporting our efforts!  Agenda points include:

  • Election of Steering Committee/Officers
  • Ratification of By-Laws
  • Discuss our next steps

The by-laws in their current form can be found by clicking here —–> USLTG Bylaws.  We ask that you please take the time to review the by-laws and bring any revisions or changes that you think need to be made to the USLTG meeting.

Voting on the implementation of these by-laws will take place at the meeting and we want to have as much participation from US growers and supporters as possible.  If you can make the meeting, we certainly encourage you to do so!  In the event that you cannot make the meeting, you are welcome to send a notarized letter via email to Jason McDonald (coaster_25@hotmail.com) or Nigel Melican (nigel@teacraft.com) giving them the ability to vote by proxy on your behalf.

We look forward to seeing and meeting each of you in Atlanta!  We will be sure to send out a recap of the meeting for those of you that are unable to attend!

We’ve Got Some Traction!

Thank you to Scandalous Teas for allowing us to share their photo of Hawaiian tea leaves.

Thank you to Scandalous Teas for allowing us to share their photo of Hawaiian tea leaves.

There is a growing interest in US grown tea and we can’t thank our blogging friends enough for continuing to shed light on, talk up, and inform those that are interested about the efforts to establish a vibrant and strong tea growing community right here in the United States.  Thank you to Scandalous Teas for continuing to champion the efforts of tea growers across the country!  Please take note of the comments/conversation started by this simple posting!  Readers are talking flavor profiles and growers! They want to know more…and drink more!