If Steve Lorch is reading his tea leaves correctly, the town of Pickens is poised to become the Napa Valley of fine tea. The Philadelphia-born surgical nurse and his wife, Jennifer, headed south nearly two decades ago, bringing with them a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit and desire to create a meaningful way of life. They founded an organization, Hydromissions International, that established water wells in countries across the globe. It was on one such project in Kenya - producer of 20 percent of the world's teas - that Lorch became interested in Camellia sinensis, the plant from which tea is produced.
Upon returning home, he ordered a plant and tended it. When the couple decided to create a hedge row on their Pickens property, it dawned on them that the tea plant had two very desirable ornamental qualities - bushy and green. Several hundred tea plants later, they had an epiphany: Not only did growing tea plants beautify their property, but it might also offer a new direction in life.
"We made a commitment that we wouldn't plant anything that didn't have a dual purpose," Lorch said. "Mindfulness about our footprint on the land is important to us. So, why not use these plants to also start a tea company?"
Now, Steve and Jennifer grow, process, package and sell what they call "uniquely American teas" on 17 burgeoning acres unfurling bucolically in the shadow of Table Rock Mountain. Steve has become a tea expert, giving lectures and even authoring a book, "How to Grow and Make Tea in the Continental United States."
Though a work in progress, the farm is already a destination for visitors to the area. Tours of the entire operation - from the grounds to the greenhouse to its processing facility - are gladly given to those curious about Camellia sinensis and interested in learning more about the successes of the Table Rock Tea Company. (Plans are in the works to open a cafe, too. Volunteers are welcome to lend a helping hand, and there's even a scenic camping area on the grounds for people who wish to soak up the mountain views and experience life on a tea farm.
Of course, a stop at the Table Rock Tea Company isn't complete without sampling their freshly brewed tea or picking up a supply to take home. Their teas are only available for purchase at the farm or through their website.
"We are growing teas with their own distinct flavors," Steve said. "Because tea takes on the special qualities of its environment, our teas are unique. We are producing handcrafted, artisan oolong, green and black teas and doing it right here in South Carolina. And, we don't plan to do things small. It's our goal that, one day, the Upstate will be known as ‘Tea Country.'"
Table Rock Tea Company is one of two tea farms in South Carolina. The other, Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island, is the largest tea farm in the United States with some 150,000 plants on 127 acres.