New Port Richey, Florida – Kelly Hackman, WTA Certified Tea Specialist and owner of The White Heron Tea & Gifts in historic downtown New Port Richey, recently attended the annual conference of the United States League of Tea Growers, hosted by The Great Mississippi Tea Company and held in Brookhaven, Mississippi. The organization, which promotes growing tea in the United States, meet annually to discuss the state of growing the Cameilla Sinensis bush (the bush that produces tea) across the United States, and how to further growth among current and aspiring growers, as well as tea enthusiasts.
The purpose for attending the conference was two-fold for Hackman, who has been studying various aspects of the tea industry over the past three years. “First,” says Hackman, “it’s important to be able to understand the product I represent and by attending conferences with this organization. I was able to see the production of tea, from growing, to processing, to tasting.” Currently, an opportunity to meet with a large scale tea grower in the United States is limited. Most industry experts travel thousands of miles to the tea growing regions in Asia for such an experience. Traveling overseas to the tea fields in India and China is something that Hackman hopes to do in the future.
“Secondly, my reason for attending was to explore the possibility of tea being a sustainable crop to be grown in Florida,” she states. Currently, tea is being grown in sixteen states around the country. Tea is currently being explored in Mississippi and Louisiana, and both Mississippi State and LSU presented preliminary findings regarding tea growth trials. The University of Florida will hold its first Tea Field Day in May and Hackman will be in attendance. At their field day, the University of Florida intends to discuss the findings of their two year study of growing tea, and to sharing which cultivars of the Camellia Sinensis plant they feel will work best in the Florida environment.
Tea can be a hard plant to grow, requiring very specific soil compositions, similar to that needed to produce blueberries. Therefore, there is talk around the industry and especially with the research teams, that tea may be a viable crop for current blueberry growers. However, “the difficulty may not be in growing the tea plant if it proves viable within our state, but with another aspect of producing tea” Hackman states. Hackman believes the difficulty the tea growers would face in the future is the ability to process the leaves into the drink that everyone loves. “Many tea farmers study the growth and production of tea for decades, and often the specific processing is handed down from generation to generation,” Hackman explains. Beyond that, there are very specific processing regulations for this product, as there would be with other crops.
Regardless, Hackman is excited to have been a part of the United States League of Tea Growers conference and looks forward to the findings at the University of Florida in the coming weeks. She hopes the results from those trials are positive about the crop being grown in Florida, and looks forward to working with the University and the State of Florida to bring locally grown tea to our area. “I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience what I did on the farm with The Great Mississippi Tea Company,” Hackman says. “To me, there has always been something very special about this plant and what it produces, and being able to experience that process is something I wish to share. To me, there is nothing more calming than walking through a tea field and I world love for others to experience that locally.”
The White Heron Tea & Gifts provides a quaint and intimate tea experience. Focusing strictly on Afternoon Tea, The White Heron’s tea room is able to provide a delectable array of tea sandwiches and homemade scones and sandwiches for guests to enjoy. Reservations are required. The Tea Room is open Tuesday through Saturday and seating times are 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m.
Guests can enjoy our walk in service for pots of tea and scones in our Tea Parlour. The Parlour is open for guests Tuesday through Thursday from 11 am to 5 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11 am until 6 pm. Reservations are not required for single pots of tea and Cream Tea (tea and scones). Full tea service is not available in The Parlour, and does require a reservation. Seating is limited in The Parlour, and is available on a first come-first served basis.
In addition to visiting The White Heron’s “All Occasion” Gift shop, they also offer a To-Go Tea service as well, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 am to 6 pm. All of the more than sixty types of tea are available as hot or iced to go options throughout the day, and are also available for purchase in loose leaf form.
Photo 1: Kelly Hackman, owner of The White Heron Tea & Gifts visits The Great Mississippi Tea Company.
Photo2: Members of the United States League of Tea Growers attend their annual conference, hosted by The Great Mississippi Tea Company.