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Camellia sinensis is the tea plant, the plant species whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. White tea, green tea, oolong and black tea are all harvested from this species, but are processed differently to attain different levels of oxidation. Kukicha (twig tea) is also harvested from camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves.
The name sinensis means Chinese in Latin. Older names for the tea plant include Thea bohea, Thea sinensis and Thea viridis.
Camellia sinensis is native to mainland South and Southeast Asia, but is today cultivated across the world, in tropical and subtropical regions. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is usually trimmed to below two metres (six feet) when cultivated for its leaves. It has a strong taproot. The flowers are yellow-white, 2.5–4 cm in diameter, with 7 to 8 petals.
The seeds of Camellia sinensis and Camellia oleifera can be pressed to yield tea oil, a sweetish seasoning and cooking oil that should not be confused with tea tree oil, an essential oil that is used for medical and cosmetical purposes and originates from the leaves of a different plant.
The leaves are 4–15 cm long and 2–5 cm broad. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffeine. The young, light green leaves are preferably harvested for tea production; they have short white hairs on the underside. Older leaves are deeper green. Different leaf ages produce differing tea qualities, since their chemical compositions are different. Usually, the tip (bud) and the first two to three leaves are harvested for processing. This hand picking is repeated every one to two weeks.
The three basic types of tea are green, oolong and black. Green tea is steamed very soon after picking to stop the oxidation process. Oolong tea is left to oxidize a bit longer and is the type used by most Chinese restaurants. Black tea is oxidized for the longest period of time which produces the darkest of the teas.
Additional recommended knowledge
Main article: Tea cultivation.
Several varieties of C. sinensis are used for tea production:
The most volume comes from the Assam variety (sometimes called C. sinensis var. assamica or C. assamica), predominantly grown in the Assam region. It is a small tree (single stemmed) with large leaves. In the wild it reaches a height of 6 to 20 meters (20–65 feet) and is native to north-east India, Myanmar, Vietnam, and south China. In tea estates it is kept trimmed to just above waist level. A lowland plant, it requires a high rainfall but good drainage. It does not tolerate extreme temperatures. Discovered in 1823 (though used earlier by local people in their brews), it is one of the two original tea plants. All Assam teas and most Ceylon teas are from this plant. The Assam plant produces malty, earthy drinks, unlike the generally flowery yield of the China plant.
The Chinese plant (sometimes called C. sinensis var. sinensis) is a small-leaved bush with multiple stems that reaches a height of some 3 meters. It is native to south-east China. The first tea plant to be discovered, recorded and used to produce tea three thousand years ago, it yields some of the most popular teas.
C. sinensis var. waldenae was considered a different species, Camellia waldenae by S.Y.Hu, but it was later identified as a variety of C. sinensis. This variety is commonly called Walden's Camellia. It is seen on Sunset Peak and Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong. It is also distributed in Giangxi Province, China.
The Cambodian plant is sometimes called C. sinensis var. parvifolia. Its leaves are in size between the Assam and Chinese varieties; it is a small tree with several stems. It is sometimes referred to as a hybrid of the Assam and China plants.
Tea extracts have become field of interest, due to their notional antibacterial activity. Especially the preservation of processed organic food and the treatment of persistant bacterial infections are being investigated.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Camellia_sinensis". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|