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Tea Leaves - The Camellia sinensis plant

Tea leaves, Camellia sinensis

Perhaps you’re a long-time tea lover and aficionado, or perhaps, like me, you’ve just been introduced to the world of Darjeeling tea. Regardless it never hurts to brush up on some basic tea knowledge, and over the coming months the blog portion of teacampaign.ca will explore the factors that make Darjeeling distinctive from any other tea in the world, from the soil and climate to the harvesting and brewing method. Maybe tea brings you comfort on a rainy day, or is part of your morning routine, but within your cup is a world of complexity. Lets start with the foundation – the tea bush – known as Camellia sinensis.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Camellia sinensis comes in two sub-variations - Camellia sinensis sinensis (the China plant) from China and Camellia sinensis assamica (the Assamica plant) from India
  • Green tea, black tea, oolong tea, and white tea all come from the Camellia sinensis plant
  • Dried Camellia sinensis leaves have been used to make tea for almost 3,000 years in China

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis is a small tree belonging to the evergreen family growing naturally up to 16m high, though kept trimmed to approximately 1m for tea cultivation. Naturally found in subtropical to tropical climates the tea plant prefers environments with average annual temperatures between 13 and 30 degrees Celsius and a minimum of 1.2m of annual rainfall. The plant produces small glossy serrated leaves that are the starting point of many types of tea.

Before I started going deeper into the tea I had assumed, like the Europeans who first categorized Asian tea plants, that different teas came from different types of plants. However black, green, white and oolong teas all come from the Camellia sinensis plant; what does vary is the plant variation (sinensis or assamica), growing conditions including rainfall, temperatures, altitude, soil chemistry and structure, wind, sun, topography as well as harvesting and processing.

Camellia sinensis assamica

The Camellia sinensis assamica, native to the warm and wet climate in Assam, India, produces larger leaves, grows quickly and can be harvested year round, thus producing more tea. The Assamica plant is commonly grown in India, Sri Lanka, and Africa and is used mainly for black teas.

Camellia sinensis sinensis

Camellia sinensis sinensis is commonly grown in China and Japan and can withstand the cooler climates, yet grows smaller and slower, and is also used to produce green, Oolong and white tea.

Darjeeling tea

In fact Darjeeling is one of the few locations outside of China and Japan that grows this variation. Because of the cooler growing conditions the China plant has a period of dormancy in the winter, and is only harvested 2-3, max. 4 times a year. This contributes to the unique flavours of the different harvests (the spring and summer harvest is calles "flush") and makes Darjeeling tea one of the more rare and coveted teas.

Note: on our website you can more information about "What makes Darjeeling tea so special".


Freya Bauer
Freya Bauer

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