Unbelievably, it is basically one plant that provides us with the tea we drink. Called the Camellia Sinensis, this member of the evergreen family is indigenous to India (Assam), Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and China (Yunnan, Guangdong and Guangxi) but is now cultivated in subtropical and tropical areas of the world. Two types of this plant exist which are used to make teas--the Chinese Camellia Sinensis and the Indian Camellia Assamica.
Considered either a small tree or shrub, the Camellia Sinensis produces leaf buds and leaves used to make Chinese tea. Some of the varieties of tea processed from this plant include:
To create each of these uniquely different teas, leaves and leaf buds of the Camellia Sinensis are processed in dissimilar ways that cause oxidation levels to deviate in intensity. Tea leaves that have been recently picked need to be processed quickly by initiating leaf fermentation, which is the procedure differentiating black, green and oolong teas.
This fermentation, or oxidation, is what happens when peeled apples turn brown after exposure to oxygen. Without oxidation, teas would not possess their distinctive colors, flavors and aromas. In other words, the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant would literally not produce tea without oxidation taking place.
Fermentation necessary to produce varieties of teas results in a reduction of tannins, which makes the tea less bitter. Enzymes further oxidize beneficial nutrients called polyphenols found in Camellia Sinensis leaves as well as catechins required to manufacture flavonoids. Chemical alterations such as these also gives teas their particular color, usually yellow, brownish red or brownish-black.
Green loose leaf tea made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis has not been oxidized, giving it a naturally "grassy" flavor. Alternatively, oolong tea has been partially oxidized, producing a fruity, sweetish flavor that emerges after the leaves are gently "bruised" by shaking, pressing or rolling them. The leaves are then left to lay until they turn brown, which takes from 30 minutes to two or three hours.
To make black tea from Camellia Sinensis leaves, cultivators bruise the leaves more harshly than green tea leaves by thoroughly rolling the leaves between the palms of their hands until juices are oozing from the leaves. After sitting for several hours and turning brown, black tea leaves are oxidized in a warm, semi-dry environment.
In addition to creating varieties of tea according to specific oxidation processes, certain teas come from certain parts of the plant. For example, plant buds make white tea; tender young leaves are implemented in producing green tea and black tea comes from more mature and longer Camellia Sinensis leaves.
Once leaves are processed, they should be stored in airtight containers until needed for brewing. White loose leaf tea and green loose leaf tea are brewed using one teaspoon of leaves for each one cup of water. You can either strain the tea once it is done brewing or use a tea ball. Steeping leaves longer than necessary may give you a bitter cup of tea.
Essential to providing us with varieties of teas, the Camellia Sinensis plant has also proved to be of interest to medical researchers due to its use in Chinese medicine as an effective treatment for many illnesses. Containing antibacterial qualities and other natural chemicals beneficial to combating many diseases, the tea plant is thought to successfully reduce symptoms of asthma, chest pain, heart disease and various bacterial infections.
Other articles in our Camellia Sinensis series
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Water quality will affect the taste of your tea.
An alternative to soft drinks and other drinks that are high in sugar.
White Loose Leaf Tea
The least processed of all teas.
Japanese Green Tea
A different kind of process.
Oolong Loose Leaf Tea
Oolong also known as Wulong tea is generally referred to as a "semi-oxidized" tea.
It is not well known, but this is really oolong tea
Aging makes the difference.
Black Loose Leaf Tea
Stronger in flavor than most other teas and goes through the most processing.