Guide to tea

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Guide To Camellia Sinensis… All ‘true’ teas come from this simple tea plant

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To the tea enthusiast, ‘tea’ is any tea derived from the Camellia sinensis tea plant (no other herbal tea, teas or ’tisanes’ allowed). This simple tea bush gives us the second most widely consumed and enjoyed beverage in the world – our beloved tea.

And even more tea more, thanks to countless tea varieties and tea health benefits, teas from the tea plant are becoming more and more popular with a whole new generation of tea lovers worldwide.

What is Camellia sinensis?

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Camellia sinensis is the Latin name for the tea plant, an evergreen bush or small tree found in tropical and sub-tropical locations around the world.

Its dark green, elongated leaves, which range from 1/4 inch to 10 inches in length, are used to make all ‘true’ teas – meaning black, green, pu-erh, yellow, oolong, and white teas. (The tea plant does have flowers and fruit, too, but only the leaves and young leaf shoots or buds are used to produce tea.)

The bud and first two or three leaves are preferred for tea – younger and lighter in color, they produce a finer quality tea.

All ‘True’ Teas come from the Tea Plant

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If you’ve tasted two or three (or more) of the different teas from the tea bush, it can be difficult to believe they all come from the same plant! In fact, when tea first made its way to the Western world, tea drinkers believed that black tea and green and black tea and even green and white teas of tea came from two distinct plants.

The secret behind the different tea types was protected for many years, but now we know that the tea plant is the source of the entire ‘true’ tea family. It’s what happens to the tea leaves and tea leaf buds after they are harvested (the processing steps) that determines which tea type is created.


Where does the Tea Plant Grow?

The tea bush flourishes in hot, humid tropical and sub-tropical climates with rich soil and plenty of sun and rain. Tea plants thrive in higher elevations, as well. Although the tea plant grows more slowly in higher altitudes, the resulting tea is high quality and very flavorful. 

From China and Japan to India and Africa to parts of South America and Indonesia, tea plantations and farms can be found in many countries around the world. In fact, the first commercial tea farm has just been started in Canada!

Tea Map

The Tea World Map below shows the tea-producing countries around the world.

More about Camellia Sinensis, the Tea Plant

The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) gives us the entire ‘true’ tea family, including black, oolong, pu-erh, green, yellow, and white teas. From this simple bush comes the second most widely consumed beverage in the world – tea – with its multitude of flavors and a host of health and wellness benefits!

Tea Plant Varieties

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Two main varieties of Camellia sinensis give us the gift of tea – the Chinese tea bush (which is the ‘sinensis’ variety) and the Assam tea bush (the ‘assamica’ variety).

The Chinese tea bush is a hardy bush that can weather colder temperatures and drought. It is known for its long, productive lifespan – some of these bushes have been known to produce tea for 100 years or more! 

The Chinese tea bush, which can grow to a height of 20 feet (6 m), was first discovered in the Yunnan province in China (that’s why it’s called the ‘Chinese’ tea plant), but now it can be found in other countries, as well, including Japan, Turkey, and Iran.

The Assam tea tree isn’t as hardy as the Chinese variety – it can’t survive frost and drought, but it does love heavy rains and monsoon-type conditions! Left to its own devices, this plant can reach a height of 100 feet (30 m) or more. Its name tells us where it was first discovered – in Assam in northern India – but now it is cultivated in Africa and Sri Lanka, as well.

After years of natural hybridization and planned cultivated varieties (which are called ‘cultivars’), many hybrids of these two tea bush varieties exist. These hybrids contribute to the wide variety of tea flavors and aromas you’ll find in your favorite online or local tea shop. 

Tea Gardens and Estates

It’s not only the variety of Camellia sinensis that affects the taste of your tea – the tea garden or estate where your tea was produced, with its unique location, soil, altitude, climate, and harvest time and methods, will also place its mark on the flavor, fragrance, and quality of your tea.

Tea estates (also called tea gardens, tea plantations, or tea farms) are found in tropical and sub-tropical climates on five continents. In China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Argentina, and many more countries – these exotic locales grow wonderful, unique teas for tea lovers. 

Tea gardens vary greatly in size – ranging from a few to many thousand acres.

In the wild, Camellia sinensis can grow to a height of 100 feet or more. On tea farms, where the plants are cultivated for tea production, they are pruned for easier harvesting and to stimulate new growth. Depending on the climate, some tea farms have year-round growth, and tea leaves are harvested at regular intervals. Other tea estates have a specific growing season and harvest only during those months.

During harvest, skilled pickers (usually women, with their delicate, sensitive fingers) pluck the tea leaves and buds and place them in baskets or bags. In some areas, mechanical harvesting methods are used, but these are less precise than hand picking, not as useful for hilly terrain, and can detrimentally affect the quality of the tea.

Types of Tea from the Tea Plant

Each of the different types of tea from the Camellia sinensistea plant – black, oolong, green, pu-erh, yellow, and white tea – has a distinctive flavor, aroma, and appearance.

Many factors influence the taste, fragrance, and quality of tea… the variety of tea plant, the tea plantation with its unique climate and soil, whether the harvesting was manual or mechanical, even the harvest season.

And, of course, the tea processing method affects tea’s taste and aroma.

Once tea leaves have been picked, those earmarked for a specific type of tea will be processed in a certain way, resulting in the lovely, delicious tea product you find in your favorite online store or local market.

Tea Processing Methods for Different Types of Tea

Immediately following harvest, the tea leaves and buds are processed into the tea bags. All ‘true’ teas originate from the leaves and leaf buds of Camellia sinensis – it’s what happens after the leaves and buds are plucked that determines which of these different tea types is produced.

White Tea

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White tea has the least processing of all teas. After picking, buds and leaves intended for white tea are simply withered and then dried. 

Some high-quality white tea (such as Silver Needles) is made entirely from the tender leaf buds, while other white teas include the first young leaves of the tea plant, as well.

Green Tea

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Green tea is also known as ‘unfermented tea,’ which means this tea does not go through an oxidation step. 

Freshly picked tea leaves earmarked for green tea are briefly heated or steamed to prevent any oxidation or fermentation before brewing loose leaf tea. After rolling and drying loose leaf tea out, the tea is ready for grading and packaging.

Yellow Tea

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Yellow tea begins with heating and gently rolling the harvested tea leaves. The leaves are then wrapped in cloth or paper and allowed to rest and oxidize.They may be reheated and rewrapped at set intervals for up to three days, and allowed to cool and continue to oxidize slowly. Then, the tea leaves are dried. 

Processing yellow tea is time- and work-intensive, resulting in a rare, costly tea.

Pu-Erh Tea

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Pu-erh tea is available either as loose tea leaves or in compressed shapes.

Tea leaves intended for pu-erh tea are first dried in the sun. Then, in one processing method, the leaves are softened and compressed into cakes, bricks, or other shapes. 

After drying, the cakes are stored and aged over a period of years to encourage natural oxidation and a rich, deep flavor.

In the alternate processing method, additional heat and humidity are applied to the dried leaves to speed up the oxidation process. After drying, the leaves are sold loose or compressed into various shapes.

Oolong Tea

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Oolong tea is also called ‘semi-oxidized’ or ‘blue-green’ tea. For oolong tea, tea leaves are withered, shaken or ‘bruised’ gently, and then oxidized.

Oolong tea has anywhere from 10 to 70% oxidation – the longer the oxidation, the darker the leaves and the resulting infused tea.

Finally, the leaves are heated to stop the oxidation process and decomposition of the leaves.

Black Tea

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Black tea processing involves four steps – withering, rolling, oxidizing, and firing. 

Once the tea leaves are wilted, they are rolled or crushed lightly, fully oxidized, and then fired or heated to stop the oxidation process – and the result is the richly colored, highly flavorful tea we know and love.

After processing, any tea allocated for flavored, scented, or fruit teas will be enhanced with flowers, fruit, or spices, such as jasmine, rose, or lemon. Don’t confuse these other flavored teas or scented teas with herbal teas or tisanes, which are made delicate tea made from plants other than Camellia sinensis.

Once the different types of tea have been sorted, graded, and packaged, they will wend their way to your favorite online or local specialty tea shop or the shelves of your local grocery store – a world away from the Camellia sinensis plant and the tea plantation that provided the fragrant, delicious beverage in your teacup!

Nurture Your Body, Mind, and Spirit with Tea from Camellia Sinensis

Teas from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) provide a host of health and wellness benefits.

As we become more health-conscious and concerned about aging, healthful, natural alternatives (such as regular consumption of tea) make their way into more and more of our daily health routines and diets.

And, research and traditional wisdom tell us that the entire tea family is good for our health. Whichever tea type you choose – black, oolong, pu-erh, green, or white – your health will benefit! What better way to nurture your physical, emotional, and mental health than with a soothing, healthy cup of tea?

Health Benefits of Camellia Sinensis Teas

All teas from the Camellia sinensis tea plant provide certain health and wellness benefits – all are filled with powerful antioxidants, provide a boost of caffeine, offer powerful nutrients, are hydrating, and are delicious and comforting!

Each of these green and black teas also has its own individual strengths, as well. Here is what scientific research is telling us about the many ways the teas from the tea plant work for our good health.

Black Tea Benefits

Black tea is good for us in so many ways. Rich in antioxidants, black tea supports cardiovascular health, prevents dental plaque build-up (and bad breath), and provides protection against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Black tea can also help lower high blood pressure levels.

Research tells us as well that black tea can help you recover more quickly after exercise and reduce post-workout muscle soreness.

Feeling stressed or overloaded? Drinking black tea lowers your cortisol levels (a.k.a. the ‘stress’ hormone) and can help you de-stress more quickly after a bad day or stressful event.

Learn more about the many benefits of drinking black tea here

Oolong Tea Benefits 

If you’re new to the world of tea, you may not be familiar with oolong tea – but this healthy, delicious tea is worth a try!

Drink oolong tea for heart health, to lower high blood pressure, and to keep your bones strong and dense. Oolong tea can also improve dental health, providing protection against cavities, dental plaque, and tooth decay.

In traditional Chinese medicine, oolong tea is known as a weight-loss tea, and current research supports this. Oolong not only boost metabolism and blocks fat-building enzymes, but also works to suppress hunger. 

Oolong tea can be beneficial for your skin, as well, by easing the itch and discomfort of eczema.

More information about oolong tea health benefits can be found here.

Green Tea Benefits

News about green tea benefits is everywhere, thanks to the multitude of current research about this delicious, soothing tea.

Drinking green tea regularly can help keep your bones strong. And, green tea is chock full of powerful antioxidants, which fight inflammation and protect against chronic disease (like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes).

The antioxidants in green tea also help burn fat, raise your metabolism, and keep you feeling satiated – so, if you’re watching your weight, green tea may be a good addition to your overall weight-loss plan.

Green tea can help with stress management, too, by reducing anxiety. This tea is also an effective energy booster – enjoy it regularly to put a spring in your step!

Interested in reading more about how very good green tea is for health and wellness? Drop by our Green Tea Benefits pages.

White Tea Benefits

Many of us aren’t familiar yet with the sweet flavor subtle taste of white tea, but this tea, as well as purple tea, is a healthful addition to your tea stash.

Research tells us that white tea is good for heart health, strengthens bones, and has powerful antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory qualities.

Enjoying white tea regularly can provide protection against rheumatoid arthritis and, if you’re already suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, white tea can reduce arthritic swelling, aches, and pains.

Hoping to lose a few pounds? Consider including white tea in your weight-management plan – not only does this tea prevent new fat cells from developing, but it helps to break down fat in existing fat cells, as well.

What makes tea so good for our physical health?

While research has yet to pinpoint exactly how drinking tea tea is made up from the Camellia sinensis tea plant promotes health and wellness, tea’s beneficial goodness has been linked by many researchers to its high levels of antioxidants, in particular.

Antioxidants are chemical substances that support good health in countless ways – they provide protection against chronic disease (like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), improve immune system functioning, fight damaging inflammation, reverse the physical signs of aging, and much more.

However it works, tea is good for our physical, mental, and emotional health in so many ways!

From improving heart health, reducing the risk of high blood pressure or diabetes, boosting the immune system, helping to manage weight, improving skin elasticity and complexion, to a plethora of other health and wellness benefits, the tea family is delicious, aromatic, soothing, and, quite simply, good for us.


Kukicha Tea

The stems, stalks and twigs of the camellia sinensis are used for one types of fermented tea. – Japanese Kukicha Tea aka Twig Tea, which has a mild, nutty, sweet flavour

What is Tea Rolling

Tea leaves are rolled by hand or with a rolling machine. During this process, the leaves are broken or crushed lightly to release the chemicals that will result in their final flavour and colour. The length and vigor of the rolling affects the tea outcome – for example, a longer, more enthusiastic rolling creates a richer, full bodied tea.

What is Oxidisation?

During oxidation (which is also referred to as ‘fermentation’), the tea leaves are spread in thin layers in a damp, temperate location, where oxygen absorption will cause them to change color. The leaves are monitored closely during these few hours of oxidation and, when the desired aroma and color have been reached, the leaves are heated or fired immediately to stop the oxidation process. 

What is ‘Withering?

When tea leaves and leaf buds are ‘withered,’ they are in boiling hot water, spread in thin layers and dried until they are wilted and soft enough to handle without breaking. This process usually takes about 20 hours.

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About the author

Hi, I am Colin, a Scotsman with an insatiable love for tea who now calls Ireland home. This blog is a blend of tea reviews, brewing tips, and some heartwarming stories that reflect my journey through the world of tea. Join me as I explore and share the joy of steeping a perfect cup….and yes, that is a Sports Direct Mug I drink my tea from!