The Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis)

There are three main varieties of the Camellia tea plant, the sinensis, assamica and cambodiensis. The Camellia sinensis is most commonly used for the cultivation of tea including black, green, oolong, white and pu er. The Camellia sinensis is a sturdy plant that can withstand harsh conditions and can grow at high altiutudes. Among the sinensis, there are many cultivars that have been created, some more cold resistant than others and some better for certain types of tea. The life of this plant can span decades and there are trees that are 100-1000 years old in existence today. Though the leaves tend to be a bit sparse on an older tree, leaves still can be gathered to make tea. If left uncut, the Camellia sinensis can grow to 20 feet while assamica varieties can reach almost 100 feet. On a plantation, most tea plants last approximately thirty to fifty years. Most plants used for tea are kept at waste height to make picking tea leaves easier. The Camellia sinesis is a perennial plant, and in some regions, can be harvested all year round. Where sunlight is less than 11 hours north or south for more than five weeks, however, growth slows and the plant may go dormant until the next season. Typically the first new leaves are picked in spring. This first picking of the season is also known as the first flush. It is said that the highest quality tea is picked at this time because the plant’s ingredients are more concentrated and aromatic when it awakens in the new season of spring.The five main tea-producing regions are China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, and Japan, but tea plants also grow in Turkey, Africa, Argentina, Australia and even the United States as well as some other regions. The quality of the tea is greatly influenced by the condition in which the plants grow including soil, climate, altitude and latitude. In the United States, the most productive tea growing region at this time seems to be the Big Island of Hawaii. It can take some time for plants to mature, and to produce a significant amount of tea requires older plants, a fair amount of them and the labor to harvest and process the leaves. image

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