Full sun or some shade? Testing teas in south Louisiana

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HAMMOND, La. (AP) – A Louisiana State University scientist is testing whether tea plants in south Louisiana do better in full sun or partial shade.

Two New Iberia farmers and one in Amite are trying their hands at tea farming, and an organic farm in the Alexandria area and a New Orleans-area tourist plantation have plans to do so, horticulturist Yan Chen of the LSU AgCenter said.

Tea is grown in places like Hawaii, generally as an expensive specialty niche crop. And there are at least two commercial tea farms each in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, according to consultant Jordan G. Hardin.

Louisiana’s were all started within the last three years, and leaves can’t be harvested until the plants are four or five years old, Chen said in an interview Tuesday.

Part of Chen’s studies will compare plants grown in full sun at the AgCenter’s Hammond Research Center with partly shaded bushes grown on land owned by David Barron near Amite, less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the research station.

Barron’s 150 acres (about 61 hectares) are mostly planted in pine, but he has created a clearing for tea, he said in an AgCenter news release.

About 1,500 plants grown there from seedlings are being compared with about 500 grown from seedlings at the AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station, Chen said. Both plots are a variety from the Republic of Georgia.

The leaves will be tested for the amounts of caffeine, sugar and three amino acids, and tea from those plants, brewed at a standard heat and steeping time, will be tasted to see whether bitter tannins are noticeable.

Tannins shouldn’t be noticeable unless tea has steeped too long, she said.

The AgCenter is in Hammond, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from New Orleans.

Chen said Louisiana gets more intense sunlight and heat than some other areas where tea is grown. Moreover, while the plants can acclimate to extreme heat or cold, quick swings between the two can cause significant damage.

“The problem is not how extreme weather we can get,” Chen said in the AgCenter news release. “It is the sudden temperature changes. We can change from 80 degrees to 40 degrees in a day or half a day.”

In addition to the seedling plots, she’s testing different fertilization schedules on plants grown from cuttings and therefore much closer to each other genetically than those grown from seed.

Barron plans a tea company including a processing plant and tasting room. When his business is fully operational, he told the AgCenter, visitors can pick tea themselves.

“We will process it, and you can drink it that day. So it will be as fresh as it can be, and that’s when things are their most flavorful,” he said.

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