Tea It Up
FAIR HOPE, Ala. (WBRC) -
For over 20 years Donnie Bartlett managed the Historical Museum in Fairhope, a place he which he says he designed, produced, and installed. He’s retired now but he has another interest which keeps him busy.
“I have farms I’ve helped start all over the United States and everybody knows who I am,” Donnie says proudly.
Donnie is growing one of the staples of the Southern diet as he grows his tea, “I started my tea farm in 1979. By eight years I’m the oldest commercial tea far in the United States. I learned how to make tea by going to China. I’ve been to China three times. Miss Hellman’s isn’t going to tell you what’s in her mayonnaise and you’ll never see a formula for Coca-Cola, and no one will tell you how to take the green leaves and make tea out of it. It’s secretive and I stole technical secrets from the Chinese. I learned how to make tea by watching the Chinese.”
Tea making is a secretive process in China, but Donnie Barrett is glad to share the secrets he’s learned.
“I will bring the tea out here and I’ll put old bed sheets out here and I’ll spread that wet tea and then I’ll take this rake that I never rake leaves with, and I’ll rake it around in the sun. This keeps the wind from blowing on the surface and by that afternoon it’s crunchy dry.”
So, Donnie has taken the secrets he learned in China and transplanted them to his Fairhope Tea Plantation, “Not only did no one tell me that I couldn’t grow tea, because no one knew. This produces a lot of tea. It looks like it’s small and short, but it grows up and makes lots and lots of tea.”
Fairhope Tea can be found in a couple of area stores, but your best bet would be to make an appointment, come for a tea tour and buy your tea at the source, “I make about 300 pounds of tea and there’s no reason for me to sell any of it at wholesale price because I sell every bit of it right here in my driveway. Half my customers will say, My wife won’t drink anything else. If I was younger, I’d probably be planting more tea because I’ve got a national reputation going but I’m old and I’m just resting on my laurels now and we are running the tea business just so we can enjoy it.”
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