Amid the foothills of Table Rock Mountain in Pickens County, among the pines, oak and hickory trees, you’ll find the Table Rock Tea Company.
Started in 2014 by Table Rock Tea Company CEO Steve Lorch and his wife, Jennifer Lorch, the company offers a variety of teas grown on their land.
“We grow, make and sell real American tea right here in Pickens, South Carolina,” says Steve Lorch. “We are one of just a handful of actual commercial tea growers in the United States.”
One of the only other tea growers is also based in South Carolina, the Charleston Tea Garden, and it was the only commercial tea producer in the United States until recent years, according to National Public Radio. Less than 100 tea growers dotted the U.S. in 2018.
Besides growing its own teas, Table Rock Tea co-packs and co-processes for other tea companies across the U.S. — helping other companies go from a concept to a grocery store shelf, according to Lorch. “We kind of do everything here,” he says.
Table Rock Tea Company produces a few hundred pounds of tea per year on its 17-acre farm and continues to increase production year on year. The farm is currently in the process of expanding to 30-acres.
The company provides 45-minute educational tours of its facilities for free Thursdays through Sundays, which is still ongoing even during COVID-19. Lorch says an important fact about tea that people often don’t realize is that all tea comes from the same plant — camellia sinensis. “That makes green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea, orange pekoe — it’s all from the same plant,” explains Lorch. It comes down to how you process it.
Lorch says his company makes a unique green tea called “Winter Leaf” that uses a brand-new process. “They don’t make it anywhere else in the world,” he claims.
Right now, Table Rock Tea sells from their farm and through their online store, but Lorch says that once volume is up, the company will expand where it sells its products.
The company contributes 10% of sales to charity through the company’s ConnectiviTea Fund that helps small-scale tea farmers in developing countries.
Tea also just takes time to grow.
It takes about five years for tea plants to reach maturity, according to Lorch. Once it matures, though, “it’ll produce for the next 50 to 80 years.”
“You approach it like an orchard,” says Lorch. “It’s not like a turnover crop like corn.”
He adds that it’s the land and labor costs that turn people off from growing tea.
Lorch hopes that with people becoming more aware of where their food comes from and people buying locally, people will also buy their tea locally.
The vast majority of tea that people drink isn’t made in the U.S., but Lorch says, “We’re hoping that that’ll start changing.”
Visit https://tablerocktea.com/ for more information about Table Rock Tea Company and to purchase the company’s teas.