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One plant, many teas

'Nature operates in harmony and balance, yet she is raw, vivid, and wild.'

By Paloma Jones


It is as much rare as it is equally remarkable that a singular source in nature can provide a rich and complex spectrum of flavour.

It may be surprising that despite all its diversity in taste, all varieties of tea belong to the same mother; the extraordinary and multifaceted camellia sinensis.

There are two primary types of camellia sinensis used in the preparation of tea:

1. Camellia Sinensis var Sinensis or (China Jaat), which is equipped with smaller leaves (5-12cm); and is propagated widely around China, Taiwan and Japan.

2. Camellia Sinensis Assamica (Assam Jaat) has considerably larger leaves (15- 20cms).

The assamica variety is known for its sizeable leaves, hardiness, and it is grown widely in India, Sri Lanka and Kenya for the production of black tea.

It is in the processing and dehydration of the leaves that determine the level of oxidation and therefore, the taste and hue.

Added ingredients set the undertones and intricate notes that can completely change the original composition, in a complimentary combination.


The first credible record of the use of camellia sinensis dates to the 3rd century AD, curtsey of a medical text written by Chinese physician, Hua Tuo, of the late Eastern Han Dynasty.

The origin of tea, as legend proceeds, suggests that the Chinese emperor Shennong was overseeing his faithful servant boiled drinking water, while perched beneath a tree.
Surrendering leaves from the tree above him were carried by a light breeze and gently guided into the heated water pool. Being a renowned herbalist of the time, Shennong perceived the accident as a gift from the Camellia sinensis tree and curiously sampled the infused mix. The result became the grounding pleasure we now refer to simply as tea.

Although it is impossible to dissect the truth from ancient myths, the origin of tea is as mystifying as the versatility of the magnificent camellia sinensis.


Remnants of tea, as well as canisters for its conservation, were identified in the reopening of ancient tombs dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD).

This discovery signified the value placed on tea, as it was believed that these tomb gifts could follow their owner into the afterlife. It wasn’t until the dawn of the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) that tea was finally offered the deserved recognition and firmly established as China’s national drink.

Despite its incessant adoration in China, it was not until 1606 that the first consignment of tea was shipped from China to Holland. Considering it was exotically imported and therefore of high cost, tea soon embodied a high culture image among western Europeans. A pedestal which retains its polish until today.


The camellia sinensis is a tropical and subtropical evergreen plant native to China that can offer a fresh flourish every 80 days.

As an evergreen, the tea shrub continuously grows, with foliage retaining its deep forest hue and functionality through more than one growing season. However, during cooler seasons, the plant enters dormancy.

Preferring warmer climates, as present in Sri Lanka (which is located 8 degrees north of the equator), tea can be produced year-round due to the more tepid conditions and high rainfall.

Black tea

The English name refers to the colour of the leaves once they have oxidized, whilst the Chinese name, 'red tea', more appropriately illustrates the amber hue that the brewing process creates.

A key distinguishing characteristic of black tea is that it is considered to be a fully oxidised tea.

Oolong tea

Oolong tea is derived from semi-oxidised leaves, with the Chinese name meaning 'black dragon'.

For perspective, the oxidation level of Oolong falls within the range between black tea (fully oxidised) and green tea (not oxidised).

The meticulous and presumably tedious processing method of the leaves involves shaping and rolling them, which can be done as many as 50-60 times. On occasion, Oolong tea may be roasted to alter the final flavour profile.

Green Tea

Green tea is made from unfermented leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.

Unlike the Oolong and black teas, green tea does not go through an oxidation process, but does pass a stage in production called 'kill green'.

Matcha is another style of production, where green tea leaves are grinded with a stone mill to create a delicate powder.
To brew Matcha, the ground tea is mixed with water, meaning the drinker is in fact consuming the tea leaves themselves.

White Tea

The category of 'white tea' derives its name from the appearance of the fine white hairs found on lethargic buds of the newly sprouting leaves used to make the tea.

The tea liquor produced by white tea also typically has a light complexion and milky Hue.

Yellow Tea

Yellow tea is conceived in a similar manner to green tea. After the ‘kill green’ step using steam, the wet leaves are smothered and left to oxidise gently at a more leisurely rate.

This producing leaves that are slightly canary in colour and accompanied by a softer, mellow taste than that of green tea.

Puerh tea

Puerh tea, is a type of fermented tea originating from Yunnan province in China, where it has been harvested and celebrated by the many ethnic tribes for at least 1,750 years.

There are 2 different varieties of Pu-erh: Green or Raw (Sheng) and Black or Cooked (Shou). Their ending distinction boils down to the method utilized during the processing of the leaves.

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