The tea plant (Thea sinensis) is an evergreen plant of the
Camellia genus and is also known as Camellia sinensis. That
is sub-divided into two main subspecies known as Camellia
sinensis sinensis, the variety that was originally found
growing in China and Camellia sinensis assamica, the plant
that grows as a native of India’s north-eastern province of
The Chinese bush generally grows to a maximum height of
15 ft. and has several closely clumped stems, but ancient tea
trees exist in China that reach height of over 100 ft. The
leaves grow to roughly 2 in. in length and the bushes can
produce for up to 100 years.
The Camellia sinensis sinensis does not mind cold climates
and grows well in China, Tibet, Japan and other high tea-
growing regions of the world such as Taiwan and the upper
slopes of the Darjeeling plantations in India.
The Camellia sinensis assamica is a tree rather than a bush,
growing to 45-60 ft. The leaves can grow to 14 in. in length if
left to grow freely.
The Assam variety loves hot and humid conditions and goes
on producing for approximately 40 years.
There are 5 main types of Camellia sinensis assamica:
Burma, Manipuri, Lushai, a tender-leafed variety, and a
dark-leafed variety. All give a darker, fuller-flavored tea than
the Chinese bushes.
Tea Types and Manufacture
Across the globe their are more than 10,000 different teas
made from the varietals of Camellia sinensis.
Like wine, the character, color, and flavor of tea is
determined by its terroir.
Teas are classified by the process used to make them and,
although the names of the different categories (white,
yellow, green, oolong, black, puerh and compressed) often
tell us about the color and appearance of the dry leaf, it is
the manufacturing method that decides the category.
White teas are made from new leaf buds (gathered before it
starts to unfurl) and young open leaves.
Once the buds and baby leaves are gathered they are dried in
the sun or in a warm drying room.
When brewed they give a very pale, champagne colored
liquor that has a very light, soft, sweet, velvety flavor.
The antioxidant levels are said to be higher than in other
types of tea.
Yellow teas are among China’s rarest.
The leaves are gently heated and allowed to mellow by a
process of non-enzymatic fermentation. Traditionally this is
achieved by wrapping warm leaf in “cow skin paper”, an old
type of paper that has a yellow appearance and allowed to
dry naturally inside the paper for a few hours. This is
repeated until the desired look, feel, and aroma occurs.
Slightly more yellow-green than green teas with a delicate,
honey-like sweetness and a fresh aftertaste.
Green teas are generally described as “unoxidized” teas and
no chemical change occurs during their manufacture.
Methods differ by region but the basic method involves a
short period of withering to allow some of the water content
to evaporate, then steaming or pan-firing, to de-enzyme the
leaf. Next comes a series of rolling and firings to shape and
dry the leaf.
Artisanal shapes include: Gunpowder (tiny pellets), Chun
Mee (curved eyebrow), Biluochun (tightly wound spirals)
Oolong teas are known as partially or semi-oxidized and
sometimes referred to as “blue” or “blue-green” teas.
Two very different methods of production are used to
manufacture two different styles of oolong - dark, open-
leafed oolongs and greener, balled oolongs.
Dark oolongs are oxidized to about 70% before pan-fired to
stop oxidation while greener “balled” oolongs reach 30%
oxidation before pan fired to stop the oxidation.
In China, these are defined as “red teas” because of the
coppery-red color of the liquor that they yield. When the
Chinese talk about “black tea”, they mean “puerh tea”.
Manufacture varies widely from region to region but the
process always involves four basic stages: withering, rolling,
oxidation, and firing.
The two major processing methods are “orthodox” and
“CTC”(cut, tear, curl). The orthodox method tends to treat
the leaf with more respect than the modern CTC method.
Puerh tea was exclusive to China for centuries. Said to be
excellent for digestion, to ease stomach pains, and help
reduce cholesterol in the blood. Puerh tea has an earthy,
Puerh teas are classified into two types - raw puerh, and
Raw puerh is the traditional method and are aged from 1 yr.
to 50 yrs. Cooked puerh was developed in the 1970’s and
uses bacteria to replicate raw puerh.
Caffeine in Tea
The levels of caffeine vary in different teas.
This is thought to depend on the varietal of the bush, the age
of the leaf when it is picked, its location on the stem, the
length of oxidation time, the size of the leaves brewed, and
the length of the brewing time.
Three methods are used to remove the caffeine for
decaffeinated tea: carbon dioxide, methylene chloride, and
The enemies of tea are humidity, air, and light.
Store in an airtight container away from light.
The method of brewing tea differs according to the
individual tea and to the traditional tea culture of the
country in question.
Not all teas should be brewed with boiling water.
Black tea and Puerh teas like boiling water while white,
green, and oolongs like 122-190 degree water depending on
the individual teas.