11 questions on sweet tea and Summerville

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Profile: Tina Zimmerman is the Tourism Director for Greater Summerville. Turns out, Tina and Summerville go together like iced tea + mason jars. She helped brand the town as the “Birthplace of Sweet Tea.Keep reading to find out about the upcoming Sweet Tea Festival

Describe your role as the tourism director for Greater Summerville.

I recently told a friend that my job is to look for the good in our town to share with others. Surrounded by great food, unique shops, and an incredible history, Summerville will charm anyone who visits.

The Sweet Tea Festival and Sweet Tea Cocktail Contest & Hold My Tea Bar Crawl are coming up in September. Can you tell us more about these events?

The annual Sweet Tea Festival hosted by Summerville Dream in historic downtown Summerville will be held on Sat., Sept. 17. A celebration of the birthplace of sweet tea, our historic downtown is transformed into a massive open house street fair with food trucks, artisanal vendors, and entertainment. Of course, there is plenty of sweet tea and you can help select the Tea of the Year by sampling and voting for your favorite.

Participating local bars team up for the Sweet Tea Cocktail Contest in conjunction with the Annual Hold My Tea Bar Crawl. Bartenders will create a specialty drink that must include a sweet tea element for the contest. Participants can pick up an official punch card available at each participating bar to guide them along the Hold My Tea Bar Crawl destinations throughout the week. Completed punch cards can be exchanged for Summerville swag.

Where is your favorite place to sip on iced tea in the Lowcountry and why? 

That’s a tough one – so many places brew amazing tea in Summerville. It’s sort of a requirement in the Birthplace of Sweet Tea! Guerin’s is a great spot. I love to grab a to-go glass at their soda fountain and sit in Hutchinson Square located in the heart of downtown. By the way, our downtown and its people are straight out of a TV show — like Mayberry, Bluebell, or Stars Hollow.

Summerville holds the Guinness World Record for the Largest Iced Tea at 2,524 gallons. How was this accomplished? 

As a result of the Leadership Dorchester Class initiative in 2015, the Town of Summerville set the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Sweet Tea on National Iced Tea Day. Lipton Tea quickly broke Summerville’s record after only a few months.

In 2016, with a lot of local support, the town broke the record again with “Mason.” Mason is a tea container manufactured by Scout Boats that stands over 15 feet tall and holds 2,524 gallons of sweet tea. The Charleston Tea Garden provided 210 pounds of local tea, and SCE&G Natural Gas provided 1,700 pounds of Dixie Crystals.

What’s something that every Lowcountry resident should know about?

I’d say they need to learn all the backstories. The deep traditions of the South. The cadence of words and strong opinions on things like the best mayonnaise, Dukes or Hellman’s. This makes us all connected while being so different. 

I moved here from Dallas, Texas, and was immediately charmed by the people, beautiful homes, and buildings. In my first year, I met artist Jonathon Green, Coach McKissick, the winningest coach, Berlin G. Myers, mayor of Summerville for 39 years, and Philip Simmons at 87 who visited my kids’ elementary school and talked of his craft as a blacksmith.

What were the last three things you did locally? 

A visit to the Summerville Farmers Market on Saturday mornings with some local shopping afterward.

Cocktails at the Azalea Garden Bar and then dinner at Montreux Bar and Grill with my book club during Third Thursday in Historic Downtown.

My family from out of state visited and I took them out for pictures with Mason, our Guinness Book of World Record-holding Largest Iced (Sweet) Tea, and the Birthplace of Sweet Tea Mural at the Visitor Center.

Walk us through the Sweet Tea Trail — how did it begin and what does it mean for local businesses?

In late 2012, Rita Berry, Nancyjean Nettles, and I, along with the Greater Summerville Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce which manages tourism for the Town of Summerville, worked with Azalea Magazine to brand Summerville as “The Birthplace of Sweet Tea.”

Our goal was to offer visitors who were heading down I-26 to our beloved Big Sis, Charleston, an alternate route that would guide them through Summerville. They would travel by Colonial Dorchester State Park to Ashley River Road past Middleton Place, Magnolia Gardens, and Drayton Hall, ending up in Charleston.

In 2013, The Chamber’s Leadership Dorchester Group partnered in the branding campaign by adding the Sweet Tea Trolley, banners along Main Street’s local shops and restaurants, creating unique projects, and launching the Sweet Tea Trail.

We recently partnered with over 30 local businesses, dining options, and historic sites that have a tea-related product, history, or activity to create a Trail Guide Passport. Participants receive stamps in their passport guide with each purchase they make, earning them prizes at the Summerville Visitor Center.

Tell us about the history of sweet tea in Summerville.

In the late 1700s, Andrew Michaux, a French explorer and botanist brought the tea plant, “Camellia Sinensis,” to Middleton Place.

In 1888, a wealthy philanthropist named Dr. Charles Shepard acquired 600 acres. He established the Pinehurst Tea Plantation cultivating about 100 of those acres. He built a factory to manufacture and package the tea. This is believed to be one of the first industries in Summerville. 

In 1904, Dr. Shepard won “Best Tea” at the St. Louis World’s Fair. President Theodore Roosevelt visited Shepard to tour the tea-making operation during a trip to the famous Pine Forest Inn. The Pinehurst Tea Plantation thrived until Shepard died in 1915, where it sat abandoned until 1960. Lipton Tea Company salvaged the remaining plants and used them to open a research facility on Wadmalaw Island.

William B. Hall established the 127-acre property as The Charleston Tea Garden in 1987. He was a third-generation expert tea taster trained in London. In 2003, Bigelow Tea Co. partnered with Hall and earned the honor of an Official White House Tea.

The 2010 cover of Azalea Magazine proclaimed, “Summerville, The Birthplace of Sweet Tea.” While researching the local history of tea, the magazine found receipts of tea and sugar for a Confederate reunion in 1890.

Describe your perfect day in Summerville.

A perfect day in Summerville begins at a local coffee shop. Then, spend some time outdoors with a stroll through Azalea Park and the Historic Home Walking Tour. I love to look at the architecture and gardens along the tour. I’m always on the hunt for treasures and unique gifts in our shops and antique stores. This takes most of the day because I love stopping in to visit shop owners.

Taking pictures and videos for work has turned into a hobby. I add a stop at the Public Works Art Center to see what they have on exhibit, and always stop at People, Places, & Quilts for a bit of fabric and inspiration. A late lunch, usually with a friend, add in a cocktail and cookie from Swank Bakery, and it’s a great day.

On the way home I’d stop at Colonial Dorchester State Park on the Ashley River. It might be the most calming spot in Summerville… peaceful, quiet, and beautiful.

Who are two to three other local leaders you’re inspired by? Why?

I have always admired those people who truly love where they live and are always ready to jump in for the good of the town. Diane Frankenberger of People, Places, & Quilts, a shop downtown, is one of those ladies. Another is Nancyjean Nettles. I couldn’t begin to list the things they’ve done for Summerville. 

I recently learned of Kitty Springs, 1828-1895, a dressmaker in Summerville who built several beautiful small churches.

What do you think Summerville will be known for in 10 years?

Since 1925, Summerville has been known as The Flower Town in the Pines. I sure don’t see that changing. As much as we grow and change, our historic downtown keeps the sweet spirit of Summerville.