Have you ever thought about what's in a teabag? Where it came from, or why it tastes the way it does? We think everyone should know the journey their tea's been on. So pop the kettle on, fill up your favourite cup and have a read...
Has anyone ever asked if you’d like a cup of Camellia sinensis sinensis or Camellia sinensis assamica? We didn’t think so! But if you’re reading this, you’ve probably had quite a few of them as they are the Latin names for the two main varieties of tea plant.
Sinensis is Latin for Chinese and Assamica means Assamese, in case you were wondering!
Camellia sinensis sinensis: Can survive in really cold temperatures, mainly grown in China, Japan and Darjeelinga and grows between 3−5m tall.
Camellia sinensis assamica: Prefers warmer and more humid weather, is grown mostly in North East India and can reach a height of 18m.
As they can grow to quite a height, tea plants need plenty of space, so are laid out in rows about a metre apart in ‘tea gardens’ or ‘tea estates’.
So how do you actually grow tea?
Growing tea can be tricky. If the weather and ground conditions aren’t absolutely perfect, the tea plants struggle to grow properly and the tea they make is inferior in flavour. So growers do all they can to take care of their tea plants.
Unlike many of us, tea plants love the rain – they need about 1,250mm every year, together with a temperature of between 10−30°C. Some tea estates, in exposed places like Assam, grow other trees to protect the sensitive tea plants from the sun and strong winds.
Growing tea takes a lot of love and attention too. They have to be pruned every 4−5 years – not just to make sure they stay fresh, but to make sure the ‘pluckers’ can reach the leaves.
The system used for cutting the tea plants is called the ‘plucking table’. It involves pruning the plants to about waist height, with flat tops (like tables), so that the leaves are easy to reach when they’re ready to harvest.
Different places in the world have different seasons for plucking tea, when the tea leaves are at their finest and most flavoursome. These harvests are known as ‘flushes’.
Teas which are picked during different flushes have distinct flavours and varying values at auction. For example, ‘first flush’ Darjeeling is known to be the most flavoursome (and therefore the most valuable), while ‘second flush’ Assam is known for being smooth and slightly malty.
And if you think plucking tea leaves is simple, think again. Tea pluckers have to know exactly when the leaves are ready, so that they only pick them when they’re tender and full of flavour. And with 3,000−4,000kg of tea leaves needed to make just 1kg of unprocessed tea, the pluckers have a big job on their hands.