Back in November, I wrote about #TeaAcrossAmerica, a program that’s putting tea bushes in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia. By joining the program, I agreed to host Montana’s tea plant, which arrived at my tea shop yesterday. The plant, which we named “Tea H. White,” is a China bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis), which is tolerant of cold, but not nearly tolerant enough to spend a Montana winter outdoors. The plant can take an occasional light frost, but not temperatures like the -27(F) we had for a couple of days early last month. This means that Tea H. White will be living indoors.
My tea bar has east-facing bay windows that should be a great place to keep the plant, with full morning sun and afternoon shade. We’ll have to work on the humidity, since it’s pretty dry out here, but we can do that. In the picture above, you can see that our cutting came out of the shipping box a wee bit dehydrated, which is to be expected after a few days in USPS trucks and planes. The first thing I did — after dragging him around the store and showing him to everybody — was get him into the sink, where he soaked up a lot of water and started perking back up.
Why the name? Well, our shop is a bookstore, which is why we’ve gone with literary names for some of our tea blends (e.g., Lady Greystoke and Fifty Shades of Earl Grey). In looking for the author-related puns, Tea S. Eliot was the first to pop to mind, but Shannon Brewer Land already used that name for the Alaskan Tea Across America plant — although she later changed it to Captain James Tea Kirk.
As it turns out, Tea H. White is a better name for our plant anyway. T. H. White is the author of the groundbreaking The Once and Future King series, which tells the King Arthur legend starting with Arthur’s childhood. We are definitely lovers of fantasy novels and Arthurian stories, and as a children’s author myself, I really enjoy good young adult literature.
As soon as little Tea H. White started perking up, our assistant manager, Doug, was ready to pluck a leaf and start drying it. After fighting him off with my trusty pu-erh knife Excaliber, we decided to let the plant turn into a bush before we start trying to drink it. I sympathize with Doug, though. Patience is not my strong suit either.
I am curious. I’d like to know whether this is the first tea bush in Montana. Has anyone else tried this experiment? Is there a little tea garden growing in a greenhouse in Missoula? A tea bush in a shop in Helena? A cutting thriving in someone’s sun room in Bozeman? If any of my readers know about another Camellia sinensis bush in Montana, let me know. I’d love to compare notes with someone else who’s done this!
The more I learn about tea, the more I want to learn. The more I experience, the more I want to experience. I experiment, I read books, I read blogs, I attend tea conferences, and I take classes. I buy tea from all over the world, and try out different blends and combinations. Basically, I do whatever my budget allows.
One thing my budget has not, alas, allowed has been traveling to the world’s great tea growing areas and getting familiar with tea bushes. My tea experiences all start with processed leaves, not with the plants themselves. Today marked the first step in changing that.
I got a phone call this afternoon from Naomi Rosen, of Joy’s Teaspoon. I met Naomi at a blogger’s panel at World Tea Expo 2013 this summer (CAUTION: this link to World Tea Expo plays video and makes noise — careful where you are when you click it). Naomi was calling because she’s working with Jason McDonald of FiLoLi Tea Farm and the United States League of Tea Growers on a new initiative they call #TeaAcrossAmerica.
Their simple yet ambitious objective: put a tea plant into every state and the District of Columbia. Some U.S. states already have established tea plantations. Others have hobbyists with a few bushes going. Many states have climates that Camellia sinensis considers inhospitable. I happen to live in one of those states: Montana.
Naomi asked if I’d be willing to represent Montana in #TeaAcrossAmerica, and I jumped at the opportunity. To participate, I need to take a cutting from FiLoLi Tea Farm in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and grow it here in Montana. Jason has written up some directions to make caring for the cutting easier, and I’ll be able to keep it indoors where the harsh Montana winters won’t kill it. My tea bar has east-facing bay windows that should be a great place to keep the plant, with full morning sun and afternoon shade. The only problem will be humidity — it’s very dry here — but we can deal with that.
It’s going to be a month or two before my little tea bush arrives, so we have plenty of time to prepare. I will keep everyone up-to-date on the progress as we get things going. In the meantime, thanks to Jason for the opportunity and to Naomi for suggesting me as a volunteer!