What is Tea, Part 2: Tea Plants and Farms

Tea Plants and Farms

We were recently lucky enough to be able to visit China. I was excited, because the trip was primarily a culinary tour, so we would get to taste a variety of Chinese food I had only ever read about in books.

However, when I looked closer at the itinerary, I noticed, along with other cultural icons of China, we would be visiting Longjing Village, the source of Dragonwell Tea, the green tea I had been drinking for more years than I can remember.

Cha

As I mentioned, Tea is made from the leaves and buds of a perennial shrub or tree in the Cammelia family, Cammelia sinesis.

Tea Field-03

In areas of China, tea plantations run up and down the hills in stepped rows.

Tea Plants–02

Above is a closeup of a tea bush. If you look close you can see the buds and final leaves.

Tea is usually made from the first spring buds and a leaf or two of the fresh growth.

Tea is picked, usually by hand, where pickers go from bush to bush and pinch off the bud and first leaf of the spring growth at a certain time of the year, and a certain time of the day.

Steeped Dragonwell Tea-2

This is a glass of Dragonwell tea. You can clearly see the buds and leaves of the tea plant in the glass of tea. That is what tea should look like in the glass.

What is Tea?

For our purposes, we will say “Tea” is an infusion of the leaves and leaf buds of closely related plants in the Camellia family, Camellia sinensis.

The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is native to China. It is now grown in other regions of the world, but all tea plants originated in one of several regions in China.

Most tea is Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, but there are thousands of varieties and cultivars.

The Cantonese word for tea is “Ch’a” in Cantonese and written as follows:

As you can see above, the character for tea is made up of three parts, the character for “grass”, the character for “Man standing at his place on earth”, and the character for “Tree”. (And, actually, the word, “Ch’a” refers to “early picked” tea, like green tea. Later picked tea is called “Ming” or “Chuan”.)

According to this website, Tea Names:

“The original English pronunciation of the word tea was tay and it’s usage can be traced back to around 1655 when the Dutch introduced both word and beverage to England. This pronunciation can still be heard today in certain British dialects. The pronunciation tee also originated in the 1600’s but only gained predominance after the late 18th century. Both words may have come from the Malay teh or the Chinese (Amoy dialect) t’e.”

So, languages which call it something like “Tea” are derived from the Malay and Southern Chinese name for tea and those that call it something like “Cha” are derived from the Cantonese name. The Dutch, British, and Americans call it something like “tea”. The Indians and Russians call it something like “Cha”. Basically, the word your language uses for “tea” indicates the trading partner your language originally got its tea from. If you traded with the Dutch or English to get your tea, you call it something like “tea”. If you traded with the Chinese, you call it something like “Ch’a”.

In China there are 6-8 different types of tea, primarily distinguished by either their geographic production areas or their method of production.

The six primary types are:

  • Green Tea
  • Yellow Tea
  • White Tea
  • Oolong Tea
  • Black Tea (Actually called Red Tea in China.)
  • Dark Tea


  • Then there are a couple special sub-categories which are sometimes treated on their own, sometimes not:

  • Pu’er Tea
  • Flavored Tea
  • But before we get to discussing tea varieties, we’ll talk a bit more about the tea plant and tea farms.

    Not So Reluctant TEA-Totaler

    As a devout tea drinker, for a long time my default teas were either Dragonwell or Gunpowder, Chinese Green teas. But, lately, I’ve found that those two aren’t to my taste so much. Gunpowder, I find, has a kind of tobacco/ashtray taste that I never noticed before, and the buzz from Dragonwell is, well, kind of harsh. I had one of my worst ever anxiety/panic attacks after drinking a pot of very strong, oversteeped Dragonwell, and we just haven’t been in the same place since. Anyway, lately, I am finding the funky taste of Pu Erh is appealing. Not to mention, the buzz is pretty awesome, more ecstatic and heady than the harsh body buzz of Dragonwell. #teanerd

    More information to follow.

    The Wrong Drugs

    My teacher was commenting on my somewhat quavery clarinet tone and I told her I had accidentally drunk too much coffee that morning.

    Her reply was, “Coffee!? Why on earth would you drink coffee, you’re already highly strung?”

    She went on to mention she drinks tea if she needs caffeine, but admitted that tea and coffee had different effects.

    Anyway, she’s right, I am already highly strung. Why am I drinking something that makes me even more shaky?

    Thinking back, I just thought coffee was cool and started drinking it as soon as my parents would let me partake. All the adults I knew drank it, so I figured I should be too.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking along similar lines about alcohol.

    I know for some people, alcohol makes them more outgoing, but for me, it makes me even less likely to engage with other humans, especially to talk with them.

    Why have I been drinking all these years?

    It’s the same. It sounded cool, I’d been reading about it. As soon as I was able, I taught myself to get used to the flavor. In the end, however, I really can’t think of much about drinking that takes my life in a better direction or gives me a good effect.

    It is time to make some different choices.

    Fine Pot of Potpourri

    SHAN LIN XI WINTER SPROUT, Taiwanese Oolong, caramelized ginger, kettle corn, cotton candy — 6
    GOLD PEONY RED, Fujian Red/Black, sandalwood, rose, fruit — 4
    BUCKWHEAT, San Franciscan Herbal, cocoa nibs, licorice — 4

    “Would you like anything else to drink?”

    “I was interested in your teas, but I just wanted to check that the listed ingredients are flavor descriptors, not actual ingredients in the tea.”

    “Right.”

    “So, there’s no actual Sandalwood, Rose, or fruit, in the Gold Peony Tea?”

    “Oh yes, sorry, there is dried fruit in the tea.”

    “Thanks, I’ll have a bottle of sparkling water.”