What is tea?

Camellia Sinensis

Tea is consumed world-wide on every continent and in almost every country. While the method and style of tea service varies from Russia to Japan, Senegal to Sri Lanka and beyond, the common element is the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. All tea varieties come from this evergreen shrub.

What It Looks Like

Characterized by a woody stem, delicate white flowers and waxy leaves with serrated-edges, some plants are actually tree-like in form and reach heights of over 60 feet in the wild. However, when cultivated for harvest, bushes are maintained at a height of approximately 3 feet. Producing raw tea leaves for tea making entails plucking soft new growth and regular pruning to maintain the plants’ ideal shape. The shape of the cultivated tea bushes ranges from softly rounded mounds in Japan to flat-topped, uneven rows in India and variations in between.

Tea Varieties

The same tea bush can produce many varieties of tea, ranging from white to puerh. It is the plucking and processing that determines the final variety. While it is theoretically possible for a tea estate to produce all varieties of tea, as a matter of practice, each estate and each region specializes in a particular tea. Russia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and India produce black teas. Taiwan and the Fujian Province of China take pride in their oolong teas. Japan produces green teas and a roasted red tea. Until recently white teas were exclusively produced in China. India has recently begun producing a white tea marketed under the name “Darjeeling Silver Tips.” Puerh tea is manufactured in China from black tea which is compressed into round cake-like shapes and then stored in damp, humid caves and allowed to ferment and grow mold, much like blue cheese.

For what is NOT tea, read more in Part 2.