Camellia Sinensis: The Tea Bush
All tea is made from the dried, processed leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis bush, which is native to Asia.
This shrub is closely related to the more common, ornamental Camellia evergreen plants that are sometimes used for landscaping purposes.
The tea-producing bush has dark green, thick leaves and delicate white blossoms. The finest teas are made from the top two leaves and bud of each of the plant’s shoot. Using other plucked leaves from the sprig produces a stronger, more bitter tasting brew.
For example, black tea undergoes significant processing and oxidation that creates its hearty aroma, rich color and robust taste.
On the other hand, white tea has limited processing, which gives it its light, delicate color and soft flavor.
While the tea bush thrives in hot humid climates, the best tea is grown in mountain regions where the leaves grow slowly to create more flavorful and noteworthy blends.
Many of the world's most famous teas come from bushes cultivated above 4,000 feet.
Most tea is grown on large plantations – sometimes referred to as tea estates or gardens. While Camellia sinensis can grow to great heights, the plants are kept cut to under three feet in size for tea harvesting.
This regular pruning encourages dense growth, and makes plucking easier and more efficient.
Harvesting leaves and buds for fine tea grades is still done manually. According to The New Tea Book by Sara Perry, an experienced tea leaf plucker – usually a woman – can pick enough shoots in one day to produce nine pound of finished tea, equal to 1,800 cups of tea.