The tea plant is an evergreen shrub that is kept at a height of approximately 5’ for harvesting (plucking height).
If left alone, the tea plant can grow into trees and in some parts of the world, these trees are harvested by climbing and plucking the youngest shoots.
Tea grows in many countries around the world and regions that vary greatly from each other geographically. Temperature, precipitation, soil conditions and altitude are some of the components that lead to a tasty, complicated and healthy beverage. Tea, very much like wine, changes complexity and nuances with the change of each of these factors and the outcomes can be very different year after year,
There are three basic varietals of the tea plant but Camellia Sinensis is the most used and known.
Camellia Sinensis or tea plant, is the plant whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce all varieties of tea.
The name sinensis means Chinese in Latin. Older names for the tea plant include Thea Bohea, Thea sinensis and Thea viridis.
- Camellia sinensis-sinsensis is native to mainland south and southeast Asia, but is today cultivated across the world, in tropical and subtropical regions. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is usually trimmed to below two metres (six feet) when cultivated for its leaves. It has a strong taproot. The flowers are yellow-white, 2.5–4 cm in diameter, with 7 to 8 petals.
- The seeds of Camellia sinensis can be pressed to yield tea oil, a sweetish seasoning and cooking oil that should not be confused with tea tree oil, an essential oil that is used for medical and cosmetic purposes and originates from the leaves of a different plant.
The leaves are 4–15 cm long and 2–5 cm broad. Fresh leaves contain about 4% theaine. The young, light green leaves are preferably harvested for tea production; they have short white hairs on the underside. Older leaves are deeper green. Different leaf ages produce differing tea qualities, since their chemical compositions are different.
- Assamese variety – Camellia Assamica
The most volume comes from the Assam variety (sometimes called C. sinensis var. assamica or C. assamica), predominantly grown in the Assam region. It is a small tree (single stemmed) with large leaves. In the wild it reaches a height of 6 to 20 meters (20–65 feet) and is native to North-East India, Myanmar, Vietnam, and south China. In tea estates it is kept trimmed to just above waist level. A lowland plant, it requires a high rainfall but good drainage. It does not tolerate extreme temperatures. Discovered in 1823 (though used earlier by local people in their brews), it is one of the two original tea plants. All Assam teas and most Ceylon teas are from this plant. The Assam plant produces malty, earthy drinks, unlike the generally flowery yield of the China plant.
- Cambodian variety
The Cambodian plant is sometimes called C. sinensis var. parvifolia. Its leaves are in size between the Assam and Chinese varieties; it is a small tree with several stems. It is sometimes referred to as a hybrid of the Assam and China plants
Although each type of tea has a different taste, smell, and visual appearance, tea processing for all tea types consists of a very similar set of methods with only minor variations.