Tea is a favorite drink worldwide with multiple types, formulations, and flavors. And in our little region of Louisiana, there’s a tea farm, too. Tour a local tea farm with me on a beautiful October Saturday morning.
Hi, again, Dear Readers:
No, three tea blogs this year weren’t enough. I had to blog again about tea. But this isn’t the stuff in the grocery store–it’s locally grown here, no kidding, and incredible. And no, I’m not growing it myself–yet.
The weather has been particularly bipolar this year. It was cool when I went to the farm on the Saturday morning before my birthday. I was wearing summer clothes on my birthday and bundled up a few days later on Halloween. It’s like that sometimes this time of year. Last week news came that El Niňo will be giving us some snow in the South this winter, but how much snow is anyone’s guess. BF has not forgotten being cold nearly three years ago, and the news didn’t make him feel better.
Let’s take a ride to a tea farm.
As a copywriter, I do a lot of research. It’s nothing for me to open a search engine and look for something anytime I’m online. At any given point, I may be researching from case law to telecom to AI and everything in between. I usually go between two or three browsers if I’m having a hard time finding additional information or the exact same thing on all the websites.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I was bored and looking for something. I think it was for local attractions and “things to do.” All of a sudden, I found in the search results a place called Fleur De Lis Tea Company located in the nebulous area between Amite and Loranger, Louisiana.
There’s a tea farm? Around here? And they grow tea? SAY WHAT?? I had to check this out for myself.
Naturally, the first thing I did was check out their website and their social media. They have both a Facebook and Instagram account for the place along with a YouTube channel. You can see a short minute-and-a-half tour of the place. (Or you can look at the pictures I took while I was there.)
David Barron is the farm’s owner, who began growing tea from gifted plants in the area in 2017. He has a woodworking shop on the premises, and the products of that shop are in the following pictures.
Guess what happened in 2017 in this area? That’s right, it snowed–six inches, to be exact. While Houston, Galveston, New Orleans, and other close-to-the-coast cities were reveling in a half-inch dusting of snow, we had half a foot, and so did the farm. But the tea plants survived.
Fleur De Lis’ website has plenty of great pictures of the place that really do it justice. Their blog also has plenty of information about them, including Scottish tea expert Beverly Wainwright, who came over to work with the team on their teas and bring them to market.
And then I saw it–book a tea tour! This weekend! (It was October 21, and the next one will be November 25, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.) You can buy a ticket to a public tour or book your own. The ticket wasn’t expensive, and I was going it alone anyway since BF had to work (and wasn’t interested, of course.) So, I took myself out on a little birthday excursion.
On a beautiful and slightly cool October morning, I drove out to the tea Farm for the tour.
I’ve been in this area before, but I did not remember seeing the sign. It’s a long rural drive once you get past the farms and residences. Turn right at the motor shop on the left. The farm and the tea house are nestled in the woods, literally. The very nice Hans Marchese, the manager, greeted us when we drove up.
He’s the tea harvesting and processing guy who works hard every day picking and processing the leaves. Hans is also a vocal proponent of the place that will tell you anything you want to know. I was surprised to see so many people there. About 30 or 40 attendees arrived for the tour, including several who drove up from the New Orleans area. (The drive from there is about 90 minutes one way.) I had no idea that so many people knew about the place. But there we were, walking around and looking at tea plants about two feet high.
The tea is grown from nursery-grade Camellia Sinensis plants. They are a variety from Georgia in the old USSR. Russia had a wish to have its own variety of teas. This type grows at low elevations, so it grows nicely in Louisiana, just like the rice that grows here.
Hans carefully cultivates and cares for the tea plants and prunes them regularly. He explained that the soil’s acidity must be 4.5 to 5.4 for an ideal growing medium. Deep pine needles in the area offer acidity and mulch to the ground. They’re planted under the tall pine trees so they don’t grow too fast. If that happens, the aromatics in the tea plants will dissipate.
These tea plants need just the right amount of water and copious amounts of nitrogen. Too much water and the plants drown. Fortunately, they have have a great irrigation system for years like this one where we had so little rain.
Everything made it through the summer!
Someone in the group asked about organic growing. Hans explained that they use inorganic fertilizer out of necessity. Growing organic results in a 40% reduction in production, so it’s not feasible. Organic is fine for home gardeners like myself. But organic isn’t really suitable for larger-scale farms. The good news is that they have no need for pesticides or herbicides.
There are also beehives and bees on the farm.
The flowers offer supplemental food for the little pollinators, especially during the winter months. They also dehydrate the flowers and blend them into the teas.
Not all the fields are mature yet, so Fleur De Lis’ output has varied. In 2022, they’ve harvested 50 pounds, and so far in 2023, they’ve harvested 150 pounds. So a harvest in 2024 could be equal, more, or less than previous years. The amount depends on several factors, primarily the weather.
Fleur De Lis Tea Farm also harvests their own seeds for themselves and other suppliers. The Camellia flowers grow only from seed, not from cuttings. The seeds offer biodiversity in case of a future hazard that can wipe out all the plants. That’s why Tabasco has its signature peppers growing in different parts of the world, not just on Avery Island.
Hans explained the four-step process for the tea leaves. Everything is time-dependent, he explains, and one must pay complete attention to the process. He even showed us the equipment:
Three weeks on, I don’t remember what this was for, but I’m guessing it’s drying or another process:
Everything has to be absolutely dry before packaging, or the tea will turn moldy. That’s why they seal the tea packages packages tightly. Once opened, use it soon or reseal it tightly.
Hans will tell you that although they can’t compete with Lipton on quantity, they are better on quality. As an artisan tea, nearly everything is done by hand. So, it takes much longer than the automated processes Lipton and others use.
I know I’m very late on the blog post from our Houston trip last year. (Happy Anniversary to them, yes, it’s been a year.) The trip will be split into two blogs, not just one. There was the wedding of Rafael and Carmen as well as the rest of the trip. I mention that because Fleur de Lis Tea Farm looks very much like the venue where they got married, The Springs of Magnolia. That’s not a bad thing of course. Not everybody wants a large venue. Let’s face it, everything is bigger in Texas, right?
As gorgeous as it is, Fleur de Lis Tea Farm is similar in style but smaller, and you won’t mind, either.
Plenty of trees are everywhere, outside of the city, and it is just a beautiful place to be in nature. One difference is the presence of fleur de lis shapes decorating throughout the place, but you knew that, right?
The land is not as developed as The Springs, like the little bridges over the creeks on the grounds. The whole farm and tea house is as nice as The Springs–and they grow tea there, too.
Fleur de Lis’ tea house has only been open since July, and only open for events.
It’s not open every day like PJ’s. The tea house’s capacity is about 50 people, and the place is available for private gatherings like parties, small weddings, corporate events, and of course, tea tours. The farm recently hosted a 1920s-style evening called SpeakTEAsy. I wanted to go, but couldn’t get BF interested.
Remember when I said the owner David Barron has a woodworking shop on the grounds? They do all of the woodwork in the onsite workshop. Much of it is from locally harvested cypress. Take a look at the wood features–and incredible detail–he and his partner, Jessie Marsh, built in the tea house. This little awning–indoors–is reminiscent of the Morning Call in the French Quarter:
There is a small mezannine upstairs. I thought I got a picture of it, but I didn’t. Here is a wider view of that area:
The highly detailed French Quarter mural:
Now, not to harp on this, but this is the door and entrance to the restroom, made from cypress:
With swirled glass that looks like wood:
See what I mean about the incredible details? Oh, wait, you haven’t seen the best part–the bar:
That’s the very nice Alex, who served us our tea and also answered a few questions.
What’s that blue thing, you ask? Well, it’s a “river bar,” representative of the multitude of rivers that run throughout the Pelican State:
The little shells are actual shells that came off the locally and ethically sourced cypress wood from underwater prior to harvesting. They removed the shells, cleaned them, and then added them to the wood before filling and finishing with plenty of epoxy. And in this table off to the side, another one just like it:
You won’t find that at Wayfair.
After the oohs and ahhs inside the tea house, we sat at the tables as Hans had more to tell. (Hans’ girlfriend handles their marketing and social media.) The very nice Alex served everyone their signature Friendship Tea tea in beautiful china cups while Hans continued his talk. The tea house was so nicely done for the tour that I felt under-dressed. But it was a walking tour, not a party, and everyone dressed comfortably and casually.
I sat with Debbie, who also attended by herself:
And I met some nice people.
Hans says, “it’s OK to slurp your tea!” My grandmother would disagree, but she’s not here. I don’t slurp, especially when the tea is rather hot.
The first bit of advice: when making good loose-leaf tea, you shouldn’t use boiling water, only water off the boil. If you boil it, leave it to sit for 30 seconds, or your tea will become bitter. The same happens if you steep it too long. Three to five minutes is tops, and you can steep this tea up to three times. The caffeine is strongest in the first pot and mostly gone by the third.
If you don’t drink it all at once, refrigerate what’s left, or it will mold.
How Was It?
In a word, delicious. It’s not like drinking grocery store tea, that’s for sure. I think I had all three cups from the first steeping.
Oh, BOY was I feeling good! Hans called it “tea drunk.” Then I had a headache–way too much caffeine, then a drop-off, and on a Saturday morning, too. We all had a great time, and I’m glad I went.
Hans also says that good tea like this is good on its own, without milk, sugar, or lemon (if you’re British.) I had the first few sips fresh from the pot (in my cup). Later, I acquiesced to the habit and added stevia and milk.
Fleur de Lis’ has only two types of tea, their Friendship Blend and their Big Easy Black Tea, available on their website. I brought home a 5G bag of each.
The shop also has some lovely teapots and other accessories, including the cups and saucers they use.
I haven’t opened either packet of tea since I got home. BF isn’t touching it (if it’s not Coca-Cola, he doesn’t want any.) I’m saving it for a special occasion, I suppose, even though I can get more tea easily. It is pretty strong but very delicious–and nothing like the tea you get at the grocery store. (Sorry, HEB!)
I had a great time at Fleur De Lis. If I can drag BF out there, maybe we’ll go for one of their tea house events. The biggest objection is that he doesn’t drink tea. No kidding. He goes into a coffee shop and buys a carton of milk (or Coke) and a pastry. Sometimes, he will go with me to PJ’s, but only if I don’t stay. BF believes “there’s nothing there for me.” It was a stretch when I was out one day while he was at work, and he asked me to bring him a sandwich. So I bought him a nice one from PJ’s since I was in Hammond already.
I’ll look again and see what other places I can find to visit in the area. Fleur De Lis also carries locally grown honey and elderberry products from Cockeyed Farms in Folsom, so that might be my next excursion.
I would like to go to the Tabasco factory again one day and take lots of pictures for the blog. That means BF probably won’t be going with me. . .oh, well. We went to the wedding last year. And I need to do those blogs and publish them.
Until next time,