Like all plants tea, also known as the Camellia sinensis plant has various distinguishing characteristics. Tea bushes are actually considered an evergreen. Unless continually pruned back for cultivation purposes, they can grow over 30 feet tall. Tea farmers, however, are well aware of this fact and keep the plant under control to aid in harvesting.
The leaves of a tea plant have an oval shape and alternate on the bush. Most branches have an average of 10-11 leaves on a 12-inch branch. The length can be about from one to twelve inches, and the width twice that. The plant yields blossoms with stamens that also get harvested for tea.
Tea leaves have a leathery, smooth texture and, at the adult stage, a dark green color. They have four lobes with seeds inside each leaf. Tea leaf seeds remain dormant until they’re ready to sprout based on the environment. Tea flowers grow both singly and on leaf axis. Both leaves and flowers become part of commercial tea.
Tea thrives in the subtropics, particularly areas that receive at least 50 inches of rainfall annually. While the plant can survive other environments, including high elevations, the most stable plants require that amount of hydration.
India vs. China
Different tea cultivators often have different cultivating regions. Assam comes from Northeastern India, while Darjeeling grows in the Himalayas. Nilgiri grows in even higher elevations than the Darjeeling. The gentle nature of these teas makes them very suitable for blending with other types. The Chinese tea bush is smaller in stature, generally growing to about 9 feet tall. Its native to this region and the oldest tea culture to be discovered.
Tea grows best in slightly sandy soil that offers acidity.
Best Parts of the Plant
Flushes, or the first 1-2″ of a mature tea plant, are considered the very best part of the tea bush. During a good season, tea plants produce new flushes every 7-10 days, but the first flush is considered the highest quality tea. Each subsequent harvest has decreased value to connoisseurs.
A tea may be named according to the region from which it comes. More commonly, however, its given color designations like green, black, and white. These designations have nothing whatsoever to do with the anatomy of a tea bush, but rather with how it gets processed. Black tea is highly oxidized compared to white tea that’s barely handled to avoid any type of bruising.
What Makes for Good Tea?
Chinese sayings tell us that the best tea plants are those that grow in the high mountains. This idea may tie to the positive nature of mountains in Feng Shui philosophy. More scientifically the mountains shield the tea bush against both mist and too much sunlight. Just like grapes and wine, the growing environment affects tea quality heavily, as does the talent of the processor. Generally, however, the Spring Flush is favored for the best quality teas of any color or processing technique.