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Tea plant Camelia Sinensis

The tea plant, or Camellia Sinensis, is an evergreen plant that belongs to the genus of camellias. The origin of the tea plant is generally attributed to the South China Region of Yunnan. However, it is also possible that it has its roots in parts of Laos, Vietnam, India & Cambodia. The tea plant can reach a size of 1 to 5 meters and feels particularly comfortable in humid and tropical climates. The Camellia Sinensis is often recognizable by its leaves, which has fine spikes at the edges.

Two variants of the tea plant are generally used for tea production: the Camellia Sinensis Var. Sinensis (also China’s seed plant) and the Camellia Sinensis Var. Assamica. As the name makes it easy to see, the Chinese seed plant is native to China and from there also found its way to countries such as Japan or Taiwan. The Assamica variety, on the other, probably originates around the Assams region in northern India and is much stronger and more robust compared to the China seed plant. In addition, the Assamica tea plant can even grow into whole trees! The Assamica is particularly popular for the production of black tea and PuErh.

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The history of the tea plant within China

China is generally considered the cradle of teas. In the southern province of Yunnan, everything is said to have started, as tea has been grown and consumed here for thousands of years. Initially, the tea plants probably grew wild and were then harvested and processed by humans. From Yunnan, tea spread further into eastern China over the centuries. Chinese tea culture and history is incredibly diverse and complex, and you could fill a lot of blog articles about every single province of China.

Gradually, the tea plants were bred according to certain characteristics, so that over the centuries an incredible variety of varieties has formed in the tea plant. What is the grape variety in grapes is called the Cultivarin the tea plant. The Culivar is largely responsible for how the tea will ultimately taste. The Chinese were the first to recognize this and use it to grow new varieties and make their tea even more palatable.

Generally speaking, tea cultivation is possible everywhere below the Yangse River. Each region in China has its own unique style and produced its own unique teas. The Yunnan region, for example, is particularly famous for PuErh, in Wuyi the oolong tea is said to have its home and Fujian is said to be the white tea as we know it today.

From theft became love: the tea plant in Japan

Japanese tea culture began in the 8th century with the duo of the monks Kukai and Saicho, who were on a religious journey in China. It is said that on their way back to Japan, one of the monks managed to smuggle a few seeds of the tea plant into Japan in a walking stick. The foundation stone for the fantastic Japanese tea culture was laid!

Zen monk Eisai, who lived in the 11th century, made tea a trendy drink. Eisai was also travelling in China and managed to bring a few tea seeds. He gave many of his tea seeds to friendly monks from all over Japan as a gift, which spread tea throughout the country. Eisai also made the ruling samurai taste the tea. It is said that Samurai drunk a bowl of matcha before a fight in order to face the challenges ahead with such focus and energy.

Because the production of tea on Japan, already blessed with little farmland, was extraordinarily expensive, tea remained for a very long time only the rich and powerful. Tea was particularly popular with the country’s ruling princes, or enjoyed during religious ceremonies or weddings.


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Overshadowed tea plants in Japan

Distribution of the tea plant within India

As we all know, the British love their regular cup of tea. Some time ago, however, China was the only country from which tea could be reliably obtained. The British did not like this at all, and in order to become independent of the Chinese tea trade, the British wanted to make their own tea. At the beginning of the 19th century, the British Robert Bruce finally found Assamica tea plants in northern India. So tea cultivation in India was possible and the British began to plant tea plantations on a large scale in the Assam region. Today, Assam is the largest contiguous tea growing area and is particularly known for its strong and malty teas.

However, this was not enough for the British, as they also wanted chinese tea plants. The Chinese, who regarded their tea and plants as imperial property, kept their tea shrubs like a treasure. Nevertheless, during a botanical expedition between 1848 and 1851, the British Robert Fortune managed to get a total of 20,000 tea seeds and plugs. And more than that, he even managed to win over several Chinese tea masters, who brought their valuable knowledge to India. The seeds were planted in the Darjeeling region, where most of the tea plants are still of Chinese origin.

Where in the world is the tea plant still available?

With globalization, the tea plant has made its way to the other continents of the wide world. There is now also a tea farm in New Zealand or in the highlands of Colombia, which produce wonderful tea. And the Scots seem to like not only scotch, but also tea, because in the Scottish Highlands there is actually a small tea farm. If you take a look at the greenhouses of the Dutch, you can also discover a few tea plants there. No wonder the Dutch don’t grow in their greenhouses?

Then there is Africa, which is already an absolute global player in terms of tea production. Kenya is the third largest producer in the world, producing a whopping 500,000 tonnes of tea per year.

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So the tea plant has made it a long way. We at friends of tea are excited about where tea will be produced everywhere in the future and how the history of the tea plant will continue. We will keep you informed!