Due to the popularity of tea these days, it is possible to locate just about any type of tea at a supermarket or specialist tea shop-from inexpensive black teas to organic, single origin, loose leaf white teas and everything in between. Yet wouldn't it be great if you could make your own tea? Well, you definitely can. Along with a growing appreciation for high quality, artisan tea is an enthusiasm for local produce, especially do-it-yourself gardening and food production.
It is not difficult to grow your own tea plants, with people all over Australia and the world successfully growing and harvesting their own tea products. An enthusiastic group of independent tea gardeners is emerging, enjoying the simple pleasures and health benefits obtained from making their own homegrown, hand-crafted tea.
There are over 250 species of Camellia in the world but only the leaves from Camellia sinensis are used to make tea, one of the oldest and most popular beverages drunk around the world. Different processing methods produce a variety of teas eg. black, oolong, green and white.
The white flowered, fragrant, Camellia sinensis grown at Bryn Hill is a variety that has been grown for commercial tea production in Queensland since 1886.
Although Camellia sinensis is predominantly grown for tea, it is actually an amazingly versatile plant. The beautiful fragrant, white flowers from Camellia sinensis are abundant throughout Autumn and early Winter and, when picked and dried, produce a delicious and healthy flower tea.
Also, an incredibly healthy cooking and cosmetic oil (tea seed oil, not tea tree oil!) can be produced from the seeds of the Camellia sinensis plant. This oil has been used for centuries in many parts of Asia.
Camellia sinensis plants can also be planted to form great hedges, which can be grown to any height and look very attractive with their smooth, evergreen leaves and pretty flowers. Tea plants also grow well in large pots or containers, but still require their soil acidic, well mulched and very well drained.
Whether you want to grow your own tea or simply want to enjoy an unusual Camellia for its ornamental value, tea is a great plant for your garden.
Camellia sinensis comes in two primary varieties which are both used in tea cultivation.
Camellia sinensis sinensis:
Camellia sinensis assamica:
- this plant variety is from China
- usually used to make green and white teas, and a few black and oolong teas
- grows best in cool temperatures, even occasional snow, and often at higher elevations (up to nearly 3000m) in China, Japan and Southern Australia
- typically grows to between 1.5 and 4.5 metres tall if left unattended
- produces tender leaves up to five centimetres long
- generally yields several pluckings in a year and is dormant during winter-the first spring "flush" of new growth usually produces very high quality teas
Camellia sinensis assamica:
- native to the Assam region in India
- usually used for black tea, as well as pu'erh tea in Yunnan province, China and recently some white teas
- grows well with high humidity, generous rainfall and warmer temperatures-dislikes frost
- will reach heights of between nine and 18 metres if left unattended
- produces large leaves, up to 20 centimetres long
- preferred crop in areas such as Northeast India, Sri Lanka, Africa and Northern Australia due to tremendous yields
- can be harvested year round in some locations, every 12 to 21 days under ideal conditions
Tea plants can be grown anywhere in the world that ornamental Camellias grow. If unsure, refer to the plant hardiness zone information for your country. Tea plants can be grown from seeds or from cuttings. They prefer acidic, well drained soil and protection from frost and wind.