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THE TEA PLANT

LOCATION
The tea plant, called the Camellia sinensis, is native to mainland of South and Southest Asia. Although tea is cultivated in subtropical regions across the world (including Africa, South America and the Middle East), the best and most expensive teas usually come from either China, Taiwan (Formosa), Japan, India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

RAINFALL
Tea plants require at least 50 inches of rainfall a year and are cultivated at elevations of up to 7,000 feet. Not enough rain causes inadequate nutrition for the plant. However, too much rain causes the leaves to grow rapidly, in which case they lose their distinctive, complex flavor.

ELEVATION
Tea plants grown in high elevations produce leaves at a slower rate, which often translates into a better flavor. Misty sea or mountain clouds that cloak tea-growing regions can keep leaves moist as they grow, and also exclude direct sunlight, forcing the leaf to develop more slowly and to compensate chemically for the absence of sunlight. Less caffeine is developed while the amount of chlorophyll in the leaf increases, creating unique flavors. The temperature of tea growing regions can also affect the developing leaf, accounting for changes in chemical structure and flavor.

Tea Garden in the Mountainscloud-tea-field


Although tea is cultivated in subtropical regions across the world (including Africa, South America and the Middle East), the best and most expensive teas usually come from either China, Taiwan (Formosa), Japan, India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
If left undisturbed, most varieties of the tea plant will grow into a tree. However, cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.

PRUNING
If left undisturbed, most varieties of the tea plant will grow into a tree. However, cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.

VARIETALS
Botanists recognize more than 2,000 varietals, or subspecies, of the tea plant--accounting for thousands of different types of tea, each with their own unique characteristics and flavor profiles. For example, teas made from the Indian tea plant are generally stronger and take well to milk and sugar, while teas from the Chinese tea plant are typically subtle with floral undertones.

HARVESTING

INFLUENCES ON FLAVOR
Like fine wine, tea's flavor is influenced by the tea bush varietal, country of origin, season of harvest, climate, soil, elevation, at what time of day and how it is picked, processing, degree of oxidation, blending, packaging, transportation and storage. Tea Experts can determine the type of tea, country of origin and, often, the time of year a tea was produced just by its appearance and taste.

FLUSHES
During harvesting, only the top 1-2 inches of the plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called “flushes.” A plant will grow a new flush several times during the growing season. The flavor of the tealeaf changes with each flush throughout the summer and into fall. The best teas typically come from the 1st or 2nd flushes because it takes the plant all year to store the proper nutrients to create high quality leaves. Depending on the region, teas are often plucked 3-4 times during the growing season, with the older, courser leaves coming from the late season harvests.

First flush leaves (which come from the first harvest of the season in early spring) are highly sought after for teas coming from the Darjeeling region, although second flush Darjeelings also have their own unique and prized character. On the other hand, most Assam tea drinkers prefer second flush teas because the leaves develop more strength and aroma from longer exposure to stronger sunlight.

HAND PLUCKING
The leaves used during processing greatly influence both quality and taste. While some tea plantations use machines to assist in manufacturing, the best and most expensive teas are still harvested as they were thousands of years ago—by hand. Tea pickers, carrying straw baskets on their backs, collect each leaf individually from rows of tea plants. Most tea is harvested by coarse plucking, in which the bud and top four leaves of a branch are picked. Higher quality teas require fine plucking and use only the bud and top two leaves.

Women Harvesting Teawomen-picking-tea

Like fine wine, tea's flavor is influenced by the tea bush varietal, country of origin, season of harvest, climate, soil, elevation, at what time of day and how it is picked, processing, degree of oxidation, blending, packaging, transportation and storage.

High quality tea is made from the bud and/or 1st set of leaves on the tea plant during the 1st and 2nd flush.
Mass-produced teabags are made from the older, coarser leaves of late season harvests.
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© 2018 Octavia Tea.