A Fairhope Cup of Tea - FOX10 News | WALA

A Fairhope Cup of Tea

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Donnie Barrett Donnie Barrett
FAIRHOPE, AL (WALA) -

Do you enjoy a good cup of tea? Well you've probably never thought about growing your own. It turns out our area has great weather for growing tea, but you have to know some secrets.

The cultivation of tea is the very definition of an ancient Chinese secret. There are few people in the western world who could be considered experts, Fairhope's Donnie Barrett is one. He grew up on an Auburn experimental farm, and stumbled into tea.

"In the 1970s Lipton tea company planted a tea experiment there. Hurricane Frederic blew it down, they pushed it all in piles and poured kerosene on it and burned the plants and I dug through those piles and rescued three plants," Barrett said.

Those three plants have bloomed into 61 thousand on his Fairhope farm. It's the second largest tea plantation in the U.S. Now Barrett spreads his knowledge to roomfuls of eager green thumbs, as he did today at the Extension office in Mobile.

Emily Arellano, took in the presentation while sipping on a cup of Barrett's tea. She said, "I drink a lot of tea hot, or in the summer cold, iced tea, so now I know how it was made."

Climate Made For Tea

Barrett told us our wet, semi-tropical climate is perfect for tea plants. In fact, you probably already have a similar plant in your yard, the camellia, which is in the same family.

With some patience, growing tea plants here is not hard, but turning the leaves into something worth drinking is. That secret that took Barrett a decade and three trips to China to figure out. He divulged some of those secrets during his talk, let's just say it's labor intensive and exacting. For even serious gardeners tea may a bit much.

Lisa Gardner said, "I would just rather enjoy drinking the tea and not doing it because it's too much work. "

Yes a lot of work, but it's not everyday you get to enjoy a cup of tea that was made in Baldwin County.

More Tea Coming

Barrett tells us he helps start two or three tea farms per year in the U.S. and he plans on expanding his consulting when he retires.

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