Table Rock Tea Company: Growing a Local Cuppa
Dense woods, breathtaking views and a waterfall or two are things you can expect to see on a drive up to Table Rock State Park. But Steve and Jennifer Lorch have added an unusual feature to this quintessential Southern Appalachian landscape: a tea plantation.
Table Rock Tea Company is tucked right off the road to the park, and when I drive up I’m greeted by Steve and his beloved farm dog Jazzy. But the biggest presence here is Table Rock itself, which towers in the background. It might be one of the best views of the landmark I’ve seen.
As we tour the operation, Steve explains that the seed for this venture was planted in Kenya, where he and Jennifer were working on a well-drilling project. The Kenyan tea fields made quite an impression on them and upon returning home to Mauldin, they tried growing a tea plant of their own. Steve later discovered there's a historical basis for tea production in the Upstate—in 1848, Junius Smith started the Golden Grove tea plantation south of Greenville. But Smith’s untimely demise in 1853 shuttered the operation just as his plants were reaching maturity.
After their early experiments growing tea on a small scale proved successful, the Lorches decided to go all in. They moved to Pickens, built a house (the garage would later be converted into their SCDA-approved processing facility) and started Table Rock Tea Company in 2014. It takes about four years for a tea plant to reach maturity so they’ve only recently started harvesting from their first 4,000 plants. But in the meantime, they’ve built a custom greenhouse to grow tens of thousands more plants for expanding their fields and selling to other growers, developed their product line and packaging, offered hundreds of tours to curious visitors and even written a book on growing tea in the continental United States. In other words, Steve and Jennifer have been quietly and carefully laying the groundwork for a local tea industry.
“Our vision is to see the Upstate near Table Rock Mountain become known as 'Tea Country’ in 30 years,” Steve says. "Just like Napa Valley is known for wine, we want people in Greenville to be like, ‘Hey, you’re going up to Table Rock? That’s Tea Country—it’s beautiful up there.’”
This pioneering spirit is evident in their signature tea, WinterLeaf®. Rather than viewing the shorter growing season here as a liability, Steve capitalized on it to create a green tea made with leaves harvested after three consecutive nights of freezing temperatures. It’s unlike any other green tea in the world, a product of this particular climate and soil, and it’s just one of the five different teas that Table Rock Tea Company currently offers. The others include Marathon, a classic black tea; Sahkanaga, a matcha tea; Bear Claw, an oolong tea; and Hillbilly, a yaupon tea.
If you’d like to cozy up with your own cuppa from Table Rock Tea Company, you can find their products for sale on their website or on the farm by appointment.
Steve and Jennifer Lorch
118 High Hills Lane