Camellia sinensis, the Tea Plant is used to make the tea we drink. There are many different processes used to dry the leaves for making the beverage. There are also many varieties of C. sinensis used to make tea. Tea is like cheese, every village has its own strain of tea plants that have different qualities. There is even a tea variety developed in China that does not have caffeine.
It is generally said that all kinds of tea (green, oolong, and black) are made from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Indigenous to the south of China, tea plants have been found growing in the wild throughout southeast Asia, whether they simply represent escaped plants is difficult to know, as C. sinensis has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Two widely grown varieties are C. sinensis v. sinensis and v. assamica.
Camellia sinensis var. sinensis is typically a shrub to small tree, indigenous to China, grown south of the Yangtse river, and widely throughout Asia, including Japan and South Korea. Flowers are typically white, at the tips of twigs and leaf axils, and bud set may be heavy. Variants include pink flowers - 'Rosea'; twisted stems - 'Contorta'; and variegated leaves - 'Variegata'. Blooms can occur from autumn to early winter. Camellia sinensis var assamica, in contrast can grow from a shrub to a large tree. Flowers are mostly single in leaf axils, and blooming season can last from late autumn to early spring.
Tea has been cultivated for so long, the origins of many varieties can be obscure. What we know from historical records suggests C. sinensis was first used in China as a medicinal plant thousands of years ago. Tea plants and culture were introduced to Japan and Korea during the Tang Dynasty (609-907), mostly through travel of Buddhist monks.
The dispersal of tea throughout the world became more rapid in recent centuries, and was greatly facilitated by the British, who traded heavily with China for their precious tea and wished to produce their own for the empire. In 1848 Robert Fortune made a famous journey "undercover" to collect tea plants, seeds, and knowledge from various regions in China. Ultimately he shipped ~20,000 tea plants to India, which were tested in gardens from Assam to Darjeeling. A little known fact is that Fortune went back to China searching for tea, sponsored by the U.S. government in 1853 and 1856. The interest in establishing its own tea industry waned, however, with the start of the U.S. Civil War. But, that is another story for another day.
Make your own tea from your plants using our green tea recipe.
1. Tender young growth is picked by hand from Camellia sinensis. Young shoots with 2-3 leaves are recommended. The leaves and shoots are allowed to wilt in the shade for a few hours to make rolling easier.
2. The leaves are bruised to allow the fermentation process to begin. Several shoots are rolled between your hands until the leaves darken and become crinkled, but not broken into pieces. This process is repeated until all the leaves are bruised.
3. (Optional) For Oolong Tea the leaves need to ferment or oxidize for a different flavor. Between steps 2 and 4 the leaves are placed in thin layers on a tray in a shady location for 1 to 3 days before being heated.
4. The leaves are dried in an oven set at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. This step is necessary to remove all the water in the leaves and to stop the fermentation process.
Now the tea is ready to use or store in an airtight container.
Many factors affect the taste of tea leaves such as the variety, the climate, the time of year and even the side of the mountain it is grown on. Experienced tea tasters can detect these differences and blend different batches of tea leaves to create specific kinds of tea. We hope you have fun growing and making tea. These varieties are the plants that green, black, white and oolong tea is produced from. Each type (green vs. black) is made using different amounts of "fermenting" and processing before drying of the leaves. We have made tea from many of these varieties and found the taste to be very similar from one variety to the next if the same processing is used. I'm sure a professional tea taster could tell the difference between large leaf and small leaf tea but I canít taste any difference. Tea is harvested many times a year (as often as every 10 days) so a large plant can produce quite a bit of tea but a hedge may be needed to supply a family with a daily supply. Freshly made tea is much superior to tea which has stored for even a few months.
Many of these are grown from open pollinated seed and tea is known to hybridize freely with other types of tea so these may not be the pure and true varieties. These seedlings do have the general characteristics of each variety.