Tea, before the cuppa
Have you ever seen Tea (Camellia sinensis) growing? I never realized the Tea plant is an evergreen shrub (to small tree) that can be harvested for 40-100 years, depending on the variety.
The young shoots, leaves and buds, are usually picked by hand as machinery is too rough on the tender leaves and may damage them.
There are four basic categories of Tea- white, green, oolong, and black- and each uses a different method of processing after harvest for its different qualities. For green Tea, the leaves are quickly heated, either steamed or pan-fried, then dried to prevent oxidation of the leaves. This allows the Tea to retain its green color and fresh-picked flavor.
To contrast, black Tea is allowed to fully oxidize before being heat-processed and dried, turning the leaves black/brown and greatly changing their flavor.
The biggest Tea-producing countries are China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya, representing 75% of world production. But cultivation in the U.S. is possible!
We’ve actually been growing Tea here for a long time. The first recorded successful commercial cultivation was back in 1772 near Savannah, GA.
A 2017 NPR article, “Pinkies up! A Local Tea Movement is Brewing!“, reports 60 Tea farms in 15 states. Though still a niche market with premium prices, farmers are working to expand production to meet the growing enthusiasm for domestically-produced teas.
“While U.S. tea-makers are not as skilled as those in more established tea regions, their teas still have a distinct character found nowhere else in the world, thanks to the unique climates and environments on these U.S. farms.” Rie Tulali, spokeswoman for the U.S. League of Tea Growers
Growing a plant is the best way to know it, so growing Tea is now on my list of to-do’s. Not on a commercial scale, and definitely not in my cold Massachusetts garden, but hopefully one day soon I’ll find a way to have one of these beloved little trees to call my own. Promise I’ll share a cuppa with you!