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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.
Two leaves and bud
For green tea, heat the leaves after a shorter wilting (6-8 hours, or less) stirring frequently for 3-5 minutes in a frying pan to stop the enzymes and prevent further oxidation. Then roll the leaves by hand or in a clean cloth before drying.
For oolong the wilted leaves are first shaken several times over a few hours and then bruised to allow for a controlled oxidation. For smaller quantities of shoots, the leaves can be rolled between your hands to bruise, but not broken into pieces. For larger amounts, gather leaves in a clean cloth and roll them into a tight ball before using pressure rolling and kneading through the towel to bruise the leaves. Then spread the leaves on a tray and allow them to darken, for 30 minutes or more. Heat in a pan like green tea to stop oxidation before drying.
For black tea, a longer wilting is sometimes needed before rolling the leaves using firm pressure to break down the inner structure of the leaves. As for oolong, a cloth may be used. Rolling should continue until juices exude from the leaves. Then leave to oxidize in a warm place for 2-12 hours or until most of the leaves are reddish brown. Proceed directly to drying and storage.
For all types of teas (white, green, oolong and black), the leaves are dried in an oven set at 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or as long as needed (by weight tea should dry down to 1/5th of the weight of the fresh leaves). Drying at lower temperatures is also possible, but may take longer. This step is necessary to remove all the water in the leaves and maintain freshness during storage in a dark, airtight container.
Picture and text by Christine Parks, Camellia Forest Tea. For more information on growing and making tea, tea tours and workshops, contact Christine@teaflowergardens.com or visit www.teaflowergardens.com .
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.