Inspired by Jaelithe’s post about the adventure of buying her first tea plant (yes, the true tea: Camellia sinensis), I decided to share my own 9-year-old Camellia sinensis plant, my current harvest, and the tea I produced from my one little bush.
I live in the Sierra Foothills at 2500 feet. My bush is a Sochi-type varietal. The buds are about 1 inch long and fuzzy. I try to pluck the “two-leaves-one-bud” standard.
My spring harvest came shortly after a week of heavy rain and surprised me. One day I was driving out in a bit of a hurry and noticed that it was covered in buds. Harvest couldn’t wait. The next morning, I went out at dawn to snap off the leaf sets.
I usually pluck for about three days, collecting a pretty good handful every day. That yields about three cups total of fresh leaf from the entire bush. I use the white tea method of processing my leaf: Just allow it to dry. On the day I pluck them, the leaves wither in the sun for about five hours, then I bring them inside to dry completely; That process takes about a week. I’ve made the mistake of putting leaves in a closed container before they are completely dry and realized how quickly even a small amount of water in the leaf can degrade them.
The tea is very light. But I prefer this method so that I taste the flavor of the leaf in the purest form with the leaves still almost whole. While it’s tempting to want to roll and bruise them to increase the oxidation — producing more color and flavor (like an oolong style) — I have more of a personal attachment and don’t want to actually break the leaves.
Drinking my own tea is more ceremonial and meditative this way. Each year produces about the same amount of tea, and I’ll admit that I’ve never been inspired to do much to encourage it to make more. It is one of the few plants in my garden that I’m very happy to allow to “do its own thing”. Every year there have been times when I either wanted to celebrate with or be nurtured by one little pot of tea from my own tree. It has become a unique friendship.
There is a saying shared about the more mystical side of Camellia sinensis: That it is a kind of messenger from Mother Earth. I’ve heard it told that the deep tap roots bring healing from the earth. Some value teas from the ancient tea trees that are hundreds of years old for this reason (as well as the flavor).
So, Jaelithe and fellow tea lovers, I encourage you to try your hand at growing your own tea. Whether you want a field of it or a single potted plant. There is beauty in this relationship: From the flowers in fall, to the new spring buds, to the liquor in your teacup.
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