Did tea ever grow in the America? Yes, and it flourishes now as never before.
On July 21, 1857, Charles Mason, United State Commissioner of Patents, wrote to his seed suppliers in London to inquire about the probable cost of about ten bushels of tea seed, along with expenses that might be incurred in sending an agent for the purpose of collecting the seed in China. America was indeed interested in growing its own tea. The London seed merchants turned to the only source they knew, Robert Fortune.
Fortune, a Scottish botanist, had completed a three-year spy mission into the secretive tea- growing districts of China on behalf of the East India Company. From Canton, he had dispatched tea seedlings, notes on tea manufacture and Chinese tea workers to India as the Company began experimental tea gardens in the Himalayan foothills. Fortune agreed to do the same deed for the Americans and, on March 4, 1858, he made his fourth journey to China.
A five-acre plot in the middle of Washington was prepared for the arrival of the tea plants. Heated greenhouses had been constructed to nurture the seedlings in this official Government Experimental and Propagating Garden located on Missouri Avenue at Sixth Street. Fortune left Shanghai in early March 1859 after writing a letter to Washington proudly telling the Patent Office that he had, a few months prior, sent enough seeds to produce 32,000 tea plants, “enough to rend the plant common in every garden in America.”