All tea is made from the dried, processed leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis bush, which is native to Asia. This respected foliage is often referred to as the tea shrub, tea plant or tea tree. Yet, it is different from the Melaleuca Alternifolia tree that is native to Australia and produces tea tree oil, which is used on skin, hair and for other topical purposes.
The tea bush 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.
Variables in harvesting and processing determine the type and quality of the tea you drink. The amount of processing and oxidation (sometimes referred to as fermentation) determines whether the tea becomes a black, oolong, green, or white variety.
For example, black tea undergoes significant processing and oxidation that creates its hearty aroma, rich color and robust taste. For more information, click here: Black Tea Production
On the other hand, white tea undergoes very limited processing, which gives it a 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 the tea plan can grow to great heights, the plants are kept cut to under three feet in size for tea harvesting.
This regular pruning of the bush encourages dense growth, and makes plucking easier and more efficient.
Harvesting leaves and buds for fine grades of tea 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 pounds of finished tea, equal to 1,800 cups of tea.