Granny Smith, Riesling and Yabukita. All these three things have one thing in common: they are cultivaries. Every day we have to deal with cultivaries, but for many the term is still foreign. We clarify and tell you what a tea cultivar is. What is the difference between variety and cultivar? In which countries are which varieties most common? Find out here!

Teaplant Camellia Sinensis
Young shoots of a Japanese tea cultivar.

Botany 101 – The Cultivar

What is the cultivar in tea is the grape variety in the case of wine. Or apples with the apple variety. Roughly, it can be called cultivar all genera of a plant species with similar genetic characteristics. Black, green and white tea is made from the tea plant, which is called Camellia Sinensis. Within the genus of the tea plant there are varieties with different manifestations and biological properties.

Tea plants from India are genetically related to tea plants from Japan, but the Indian tea shrubs are more accustomed to a tropically humid climate. Japanese plants, on the other hand, cope better with the harsh Japanese winters. This is comparable to the grape varieties in the wine. Pinot Noir and Riesling are two different grape varieties with different characteristics, but both are grapes at the end of the day. The same is true of tea.

The difference between variety and cultivar

The plant variety describes the supergroup of the plant species, which originated in a natural way. In the case of the tea plant Camellia Sinensis, there are two varieties: the Camellia Sinensis Var. Sinensis (also called China’s seed plant) and the Camellia Sinensis Var. Assamica.

Cultivaries, on the other hand, are sub-varieties of these varieties created by crossbreeding and natural selection. They are often bred by tea farms through crosses. In Japan and Taiwan there are even own research stations, which are dedicated to breeding and researching new cultivars.

Famous and important tea cultivatives

Depending on the country, there are some dominant tea cultivares, which are preferred by many tea farmers due to different characteristics. Depending on the climate, terroir or desired taste profile, there are very different tea plants from country to country.

Japan

In Japan, the Cultivar Yabukita is the most popular as it is extremely resistant to frost and disease, a very high yield gives the tea a fresh, grassy taste. For this purpose, this species has a naturally strong umami, which is particularly popular with the Japanese.

Other popular cultivars in Japan are:

  • Okumidori, lots of umami, savoury taste
  • Saemidori, light and fresh
  • Samidori, very balanced
  • Gokou, is often used for Matcha and Gyokro
  • Uji Hikari, native cultivar of the Uji region

Taiwan

Also in Taiwan there are many different varieties of the tea plant. The taiwan Research and Extension Station, the country’s own research laboratory for tea, continuously researches and develops new varieties. But also by crossbreeding many wonderful varieties were bred here. The most commonly used in Taiwan is Qing Xin, which means “green heart” in German. This variety is particularly popular with high-quality highland teas. The cultivar grows more slowly than others, which leads to lower yields, but also to a higher quality and a finer aroma.

More important varieties in Taiwan:

  • Jin Xuan TTES* #13, me-creamy taste
  • Cui Yu, also called Jade Oolong
  • Hong Yu, also Ruby 18 or TTES* #18
  • Si Ji Chun, grows also in winter

*TTES = Taiwan Tea Experiment Station

India

In India, there is not too much variety of cultiva. Many areas in India are highly specialized in one variety and do not require a large variety of different plants. In addition, tea is not produced for too long in India, so it is only “short” that experiments and research are carried out.

Some tea gardens have nevertheless produced their own crossroads. These include:

  • Bannockburn 157
  • Phoobsering 312
  • Ambari Vegetative 2 **

Especially for black tea, the Assamica variety of Camellia Sinensis is often grown. It can often be used to achieve high yields. Find out more about the noble teas from India and Darjeeling in a separate article.

“Mhmm, but that smells good. What kind of cultivar is that?”

China and other countries

Huge China in particular has an immense variety of cultivars. To list all the different varieties would be a mammoth project. Unlike In Japan or Taiwan, there is no dominant cultivar in the Middle Kingdom, but is used for a particular tea for a particular variety, depending on the region. For the famous green tea Long Jing the Kultivar Long Jing 43 is used, for white tea the varieties Fuding Da Bai and for black tea Souchong. Many teas have their own cultivar, which is only used to make a type of tea.

In other East Asian countries such as Thailand or Vietnam, the cultivafrom from countries such as Taiwan or China is often used. It is often tried to imitate famous teas, as they can fetch a higher price on the mark. In Laos, on the other hand, ancient tea trees still grow, which stand up to 10+ meters high and are several hundred years as if. Here the tea production is still an old craft and the trees grow almost exclusively wild.

As a tea retailer, we always want to offer our customers the maximum of transparency. On many of our tea packaging we therefore also indicate the tea cultivar used. So we want to score not only with the outstanding taste of our teas, but also with our expertise on the subject. We want to inspire for this wonderful product and pass on as much information as possible. Take a look around our diverse tea shop and discover fascinating teas from all over the world!

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)