The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) gives us the entire 'true' tea family, including black, oolong, pu-erh, green, yellow, and white teas. From this simple bush comes the second most widely consumed beverage in the world - tea - with its multitude of flavors and a host of health and wellness benefits!
Two main varieties of Camellia sinensis give us the gift of tea - the Chinese tea bush (which is the 'sinensis' variety) and the Assam tea bush (the 'assamica' variety).
The Chinese tea bush is a hardy bush that can weather colder temperatures and drought. It is known for its long, productive lifespan - some of these bushes have been known to produce tea for 100 years or more!
The Chinese tea bush, which can grow to a height of 20 feet (6 m), was first discovered in the Yunnan province in China (that's why it's called the 'Chinese' tea plant), but now it can be found in other countries, as well, including Japan, Turkey, and Iran.
The Assam tea tree isn't as hardy as the Chinese variety - it can't survive frost and drought, but it does love heavy rains and monsoon-type conditions! Left to its own devices, this plant can reach a height of 100 feet (30 m) or more. Its name tells us where it was first discovered - in Assam in northern India - but now it is cultivated in Africa and Sri Lanka, as well.
After years of natural hybridization and planned cultivated varieties
(which are called 'cultivars'), many hybrids of these two tea bush
varieties exist. These hybrids contribute to the wide variety of tea
flavors and aromas you'll find in your favorite online or local tea shop.
It's not only the variety of Camellia sinensis that affects the taste of your tea - the tea garden or estate where your tea was produced, with its unique location, soil, altitude, climate, and harvest time and methods, will also place its mark on the flavor, fragrance, and quality of your tea.
Tea estates (also called tea gardens, tea plantations, or tea farms) are found in tropical and sub-tropical climates on five continents. In China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Argentina, and many more countries - these exotic locales grow wonderful, unique teas for tea lovers. (Click here to see a map pinpointing tea-producing countries.)
Tea gardens vary greatly in size - ranging from a few to many thousand acres.
In the wild, Camellia sinensis can grow to a height of 100 feet or more. On tea farms, where the plants are cultivated for tea production, they are pruned for easier harvesting and to stimulate new growth. Depending on the climate, some tea farms have year-round growth, and tea leaves are harvested at regular intervals. Other tea estates have a specific growing season and harvest only during those months.
During harvest, skilled pickers (usually women, with their delicate, sensitive fingers) pluck the tea leaves and buds and place them in baskets or bags. In some areas, mechanical harvesting methods are used, but these are less precise than hand picking, not as useful for hilly terrain, and can detrimentally affect the quality of the tea.
There's more to learn about the tea bush... Read more about Camellia sinensis here. And, if you're interested in the many tea health benefits linked to teas from the tea bush, you can learn more here.
When you sip your next cup of tea, close your eyes, inhale deeply, and let your mind transport you to the lush tea plantation in some far-off spot where your delicious brew originated. Camellia sinensis gives us the gift of tea - grown in exotic locales and brimming with health benefits, this beloved brew enhances our physical health and nurtures us emotionally, too.