Camellia sinensis: origins, characteristics and harvest

Camellia sinensis: origins, characteristics and harvest

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Almost every tea you can find on the market and enjoy comes from a specific plant species known as camellia sinensis.

There are two varieties of this plant that produce different types of tea, with specific characteristics that define each of them. Black tea, called "red tea" in China, is for example the variety with the strongest taste due to the oxidation time required in the manufacturing process.

Oolong tea, known for its floral notes similar to green tea, is less oxidized. Green tea, the sweetest variety, does not undergo any oxidation and is treated in a "pan" during processing to avoid oxidation.

The origins

There Camellia sinensis (or tea plant) is used to make most traditional teas, including black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and green tea.

This plant, which originated near the southwestern region of China as an evergreen forest shrub, has glossy green leaves with serrated edges, similar in shape and size to a bay leaf.

As for his own origins, as you can easily guess these are quite remote times. In fact, it seems that for the first time the Camelia sinensis was used in 2737 BC. thanks to an emperor: a leaf from the tree above Camelia sinensis accidentally slipped into a vase in which there was boiling water. The combination of these two elements gave rise to a drink that led him to search for the tree, discovering both its medicinal and culinary properties.

The varieties

Two varieties of the tea plant make up some of the most popular types of tea. There Camellia sinensis sinensis (Chinese tea) is native to China and thrives in cool, high temperatures. It is commonly grown on mountain slopes, producing a sweeter and more delicate taste, indicative of both green and white tea.

There Camellia sinensis assamica (Assam tea or Indian tea), on the other hand, thrives in the Assam region of northern India. This plant is considered more tropical than its Chinese variety, growing larger and producing larger leaves (due to a climate with plenty of rain and warm temperatures). This variety is used for robust teas such as black, oolong and pu-erh teas.


Although Camellia sinensis typically flourishes in tropical climates, some varieties, such as the Chinese one, thrive even in cooler, high-altitude climates. In the United States, tea is grown in Hawaii, the subtropical region of the Southeast, and in the cool, mild climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Many tea plantations keep Camelia sinensis as a shrub, but if not pruned, it can grow into a small tree. In fact, some cultivars believe that the taller the tea plant, the larger the root structure and the more nutrient-rich and flavorful the tea will be. The tea plant thrives in sandy, well-drained soil and shouldn't be harvested until it reaches three years of age.


There collection of Camelia sinensis it must be done by hand, as only the upper leaves need to be harvested. During the harvest it is necessary to look for the young leaves in the upper part of the plant, in particular those with the tips, or small partially formed leaves. On rare occasions, the twigs and flowers of the plant are also used. Generally, plants are kept from flowering to divert their energy to the precious leaves. However, some backyard growers prefer the beautiful white flowers that bloom in the fall.

The tea is harvested during the warmer months, when the plant grows most vigorously. In northern climates, this translates into a window of only four months. However, in tropical regions, cultivars can have up to eight months of regular harvests.

Read also: Kentia, characteristics and care advice


Camellia sinensis is part of the evergreen family. The leaves are shiny green with serrated edges. When allowed to bloom the plant produces small white flowers with bright yellow stamens. The fruit that develops has a hard green shell and a single round, brown seed. The seeds can be used to make tea oil.

Camellia sinensis comes in two primary varieties and a third, which is not typically used in tea cultivation. The plant strain Camellia sinensis sinensis it originates from China and is usually used to make green and white teas. Some black teas and oolong teas are made using this variety.

The stump Camellia sinensis assamica instead he is originally from the Assam region in India. This plant is usually used for black tea, as well as for pu'erh tea in Yunnan province, China.

The third variety is Camellia sinensis cambodiensis (the "Java bush"). Although it has been crossed to obtain certain traits in other cultivars, the Java bush is not typically used in commercial tea production. There are around 1,500 cultivars derived from the two main varieties.

We hope that these brief indications on the subject of our current study will be useful for improving your knowledge of this evergreen species, which has given rise to many varieties of tea. A very important resource for all lovers of this drink, who will surely want to further deepen their knowledge with Camellia sinensis and all the uses that can be made through its leaves!

Video: An Intro to Camellia Sinensis: Whats Your Tea Type? (June 2022).