Camellia Sinensis – The Tea Bush

All teas, except for Herbal Teas, come from just one plant: Camellia Sinensis. Up to 1753 the tea plant was called Thea Sinensis. This shrub-like flowering evergreen plant is usually grown in tropical climates at high altitudes. The best teas are grown at altitudes between 3000 and 7000 feet. Some of the leading tea-producing countries include China, Japan, Taiwan (“Formosa”) India, Sri Lanka (“Ceylon”) and Indonesia.

But not all tea is grown on high mountains in tropical climates – there are tea gardens in subtropical areas, at sea level. Some examples include tea grown in Cornwall (UK) and Seattle (USA).

Moisture And Acidity

For Cemellia Sinensis to thrive, an area needs at least over 50 inches of rainfall per year (more than 100 is preferred) and acidic soil. Whereas wild tea trees can grow up to 50 feet or more, commercially grown plants are constantly pruned to waist-height (four to five feet) for easy maintenance and growth stimulation of the top leaves and buds, which is where the tea leaves are taken from.

Coarse Plucking

This type of harvesting means that the unopened bud and the top three or four leaves are being taken (“course plucking”). The plucking is usually done by women, who walk through the tea gardens wearing large baskets on their backs. Mechanical plucking has not really taken off (yet?).

Flush

Only the top of the plant is being picked for higher quality teas; when the first two leaves and the bud on the top of the plant are being picked, it is called “fine plucking”. When just the bud is being taken, it is called “imperial plucking”. This fine plucking can only be done a few times during growth season, which is why there are additional categories: “First Flush” for the first time, and “Second Flush” for the second. Some areas even have more than two harvestable growths.

First Flush

The first harvest contains most catechins (antioxidants), L-theanine (stimulant), and caffeine. It has a distinct taste, and does not keep as long as the later harvests.

Highest-Grade Teas

In order to get the highest quality teas, the Camellia Sinensis needs:

  • good soil
  • ample water supply
  • high elevation
  • young leaves
  • favourable plucking season

Types Of Tea

All this effort to pluck the Tea Bush results in a number of different tea types:

  • White Tea
  • Green Tea
  • Oolong
  • Black Tea
  • Pu’erh