Camellia sinensis is the species of plant that true tea is made from. The Camellia plant, also known as tea plant, tea tree, and tea shrub, is used to make all varieties of non-herbal tea including green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong, and pu-erh tea. The specific tea variety is derived from the type of processing and level of oxidation.
The tea plant is native to Southeast Asian but it is, and can be grown, around the world in tropical and subtropical regions. The tea plant can grow outdoors in Zones 7-9; in the United States the tea plant does very well in the humid South. Outside of Zone 8 it is best to grow it in greenhouse or a pot that can be brought inside during the winter.
Growing the tea plant for the home garden is an act of patience. It can take three years for the tea plant to mature to the point of cultivation. But once that initial period of investment is complete the tea plant can live 50-100 years; in fact, wild tea plants have been found to be as old as 1,700 years.
Camellia is an evergreen shrub and usually kept trimmed below 6 feet tall. The leaves, and sometimes the twigs and flowers, are harvested to make tea. The younger and lighter green leaves are preferred to make tea but more mature leaves can also be used.
Making tea from the Camellia is a relatively simple process. Green tea is the simplest tea to make from Camellia sinensis. The leaves are simply cut after pruning, washed, and then left to dry in the heat. The heat destroys enzymes so that the leaf will retain its green color instead of turning black.
Oolong tea is made by cutting fresh leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant and then slightly fermenting it with its own juices. Oolong tea is tricky to make as the outer edges of the tea leaf is fermented while the interior of the leaf remains unfermented.
White tea is made by slowly and gently steaming the tea bud and the two most upper leaves from the tea plant.
There are various methods to make black tea but in general black tea is made by cutting and washing the tea leaves and then mashing the freshly cut leaves. Traditionally a mortar and pestle is used to mash the leaves but a blender can also be used. The mashed leaves are then dried in a non humid place to avoid fermentation or rancidity.
Regardless of the type of tea made the leaves should be stored in an airtight container. Enjoy. -KATHY FAIRCHILD