Growing as a wild tree in China the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) was discovered to make a tasty and healthy drink. In the wild the tea plant can grow to about 12 feet, but is maintained as a bush due to constant harvesting of tender leaves.
Plucking occurs as frequently as every seven days depending on its rate of growth. Every 2 to 4 years occasional pruning helps maintain the height of the tea plant at around 3 to 4 feet, which is a manageable height for harvesting.
If carefully nurtured the productive life span of a tea plant is around one hundred years.
Two methods are used to produce new tea plants, seed germination and vegetative propagation.
Seeds are germinated in nurseries and plants are ready for planting in about one year. These plants have a tap root system that is more drought tolerant.
The more commonly used method is vegetative propagation, which uses a “cutting“ containing a mature leaf with an auxiliary bud and internode taken from bushes specifically grown for this purpose. The cutting is placed in a bag of soil and the bud grows into the stem and the bottom of the internode grows into a fibrous root system.
Tea pickers walk between a green carpet of tightly cultivated tea plants on hilly slopes in contour rows to pick the tea leaves.
The tea pickers are trained to pick only the tender leaves leaving behind the mature leaves as maintenance foliage for photosynthesis. The key to producing good tea is harvesting good tea leaf.
Harvesting consists of picking two leaves and a bud, the tender part of a tea shoot. Mature leaves ruin the flavor of the tea. Harvested tea leaves are handled carefully to minimize damage to the green leaf.
Large groups of workers harvest or pick tea leaves in a rotational pattern called plucking rounds to cover entire tea estates. The leaves are collected in baskets, weighed, and sent to the factory for processing when full.
Tea plants are fertilized and the soil is keept weed free and protected from soil erosion. Pests and diseases to a large extent are controlled biologically.
Quality tea is dependent on good weather, proper care, quality harvesting, and proper processing.
All teas, white, green, oolong, and black teas come from the same plant (Camellia Sinensis), and they undergo different processing methods.
Herbal teas do not come from the tea plant and are more accurately known as herbal infusions. Dried fruit infusions are Tisanes.