Camellia sinensis, Photo: Michael Lahanas
Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze
* Trudy Imperatorskago S.-Peterburgskago Botaniceskago Sada. Acta Horti Petropolitani. St. Petersburg 10:195. 1887
Chinese Camellia sinensis is the species of plant whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce Chinese tea. It is of the genus Camellia (simplified Chinese: 茶花; traditional Chinese: 茶花; pinyin: Cháhuā), a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae. White tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea 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. Common names include tea plant, tea tree, and tea shrub.
There are two major varieties that characterize this species (1) Chinese Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (L.) Kuntz and (2) Camellia sinensis var. clonal assamica (Masters) Kitam.
Nomenclature and taxonomy
The name sinensis means Chinese in Latin. Camellia is taken from the Latinized name of Rev. Georg Kamel, S.J. (1661-1706), a Czech-born Jesuit priest who became both a prominent botanist and a missionary to the Philippines. Though Kamel did not discover or name the plant, Carl Linnaeus chose his name for the genus to honor Kamel's contributions to science. Older names for the tea plant include Thea bohea, Thea sinensis and Thea viridis.
List of the Cultivars
* Benifuuki 
Chinese Camellia sinensis is native to mainland China South and Southeast Asia, but it 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.
Camellia sinensis is mainly cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical climates, in areas with at least 127 cm. (50 inches) of rainfall a year. However, the clonal one is commercially cultivated from the equator to as far north as Cornwall on the UK mainland. Many high quality teas are grown at high elevations, up to 1500 meters (5,000 ft), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavour.
Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking. Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved Chinese variety plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the large-leaved Assamese plant (C. sinensis assamica), used mainly for black tea.
Not only does India produce the most tea in the world, it grows some of the very best. Nearly every part of the country has a tea-growing region. Indian teas produced from over 14,000 tea estates contribute approximately 4% of the national income of India. The geography of India allows for many different climatic conditions, and the resulting teas can be dramatically different from each other.
There are 3 main kinds of tea produced in India:
Assam Assam tea comes from the North Eastern section of the country. This heavily forested region is home to much wildlife, including the rhinoceros. Tea from here is rich and full-bodied. It was in Assam that the first tea estate was established, in 1837.
Darjeeling The Darjeeling region is cool and wet, and tucked in the foothills of the Himalayas. The tea is exquisite and delicately flavored, and considered to be one of the finest teas in the world. The Darjeeling plantations have 3 distinct harvests, and the tea produced from each 'flush' has a unique flavor. First flush teas are light and aromatic, while the second flush produces tea with a bit more bite. The third, or autumn flush gives a tea that is lesser in quality.
Nilgiri This tea comes from an even higher part of India than Darjeeling. This southern Indian region has elevations between 1,000 and 2,5000 metres. The flavors of Nilgiri teas are subtle and rather gentle. They are frequently blended with other, more robust teas.
Besides the different kinds of tea that come from India, there is also a very unique style of making tea. It's called chai. There are lots of various recipes to make chai, but the basic ingredients are: black tea, milk, sugar, and spices. It's the combination of spices that make chai so wonderful. The most common are cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and even pepper. Even major coffee and tea chains are starting to serve chai in North America. If you're tired of plain tea, give chai a try.
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 Waldenae Camellia. It is seen on Sunset Peak and Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong. It is also distributed in Guangxi Province, China.
* The leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine and other medical systems to treat asthma (functioning as a bronchodilator), angina pectoris, peripheral vascular disease, and coronary artery disease.
1. ^ ITIS Standard Report Page Camellia Sinensis retrieved 2009-03-28.
Source: Wikispecies, Wikipedia: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License