Camellia sinensis is an evergreen shrub that produces various teas. These leaves are harvested to make tea, but also serve to encourage continual bud growth. They grow over 50 feet, and often referred to as a tree. The shrub is used to harvest, green, black, white, oolong and pu’erh teas. The different types of teas depend on the processing of the leaves, not the plant.
Exact origins of the Camellia sinensis are unknown. Two dominant varieties sinensis (Chinese tea) and assamica (Indian tea) are distinctly grown within their respected environment.
The seeds from the Camellia sinensis can be used to make tea oil. Cultivars of Camellia sinensis include; Benifuuki, Fushun, Kanayamidori, Meiryoku, Saemidori, Okumidori and Yabukita.
Chinese tea growers use sinensis plants. These plants are tolerant to colder temperatures, and lower humidity. This resilient plant allows it to be grown in mountainous regions of China, where temperatures are cooler and drier than their cousins’ assamica. They grow to 15 feet in height, but often trimmed to a set length to increase cultivation output.
Sinensis tea leaves are relatively small and narrow. In China, these plants are grown in higher altitudes, and in cooler temperatures. This allows teas to be less astringent, and increases the flavor profile in teas.
Growing environments in India can vary greatly from China, including the plant species used to grow and harvest tea. Assamica is grown in warm, high humidity environments. They grow to 55 feet in height due to favorable growing conditions when left untrimmed. Indigenous to Northern India, are now grown in various parts of the world for cultivating teas.
Assamica tea leaves are much larger and leathery in feel, compared to sinensis. These tea leaves are cultivated primarily for black tea.
Assam - Assam, India is the largest tea growing region. Assam uses Assamica plant variety for harvesting teas. With heavy rainfall during monsoon seasons, and high heat during days, make Assam a tropical environment with its high humidity. Assam region is known for making strong flavorful black teas.
Darjeeling - Located within the Himalayas, this cool, wet environment is ideal for growing sinensis variety. Teas grown here are delicate in flavor and have 3 distinct harvesting seasons, spring, summer, and autumn.
Tea seeds take 2-3 yeas from germination to full maturity, and ready to be harvested. Seed bearing fruit of the sinensis can be pressed to yield tea oil.
At higher elevations, the growth rate of the plant slows. The additional time and fewer harvest periods give tea leaves the added depth and complexity that make high altitude teas more desirable.
Camellia sinensis plants used for cultivating teas are pruned to waist height, to allow better access to plucking and preventing the plant from growing into a tree. Fresh leaves contain 4% caffeine. Young, light green leaves are harvest for tea production. Older leaves are deeper in green color, and less desirable as they are more astringent. The bud of the plant and two leaves are generally harvested for tea processing.
Camellia sinensis is mainly cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates with 127 cm of annual rainfall. These plants can be grown in full shade, to full sun.