The tea plant is a member of the camellia family. All varieties of tea – black, green, white, etc. – come from one of two varieties of the same plant: the small-leaved Chinese plant (Camellia sinensis sinensis) or the large-leaved Assam plant (Camellia sinensis assamica), from India's Assam State. Both varieties require high humidity (70-90%) and moderate temperatures (10-30°C).
The numerous hybrids of these two principal varieties yield teas of quite different character.
The tea plant needs warmth and moisture, sun and rain, preferably all year round. In its natural state it can grow to a height of 10-15 metres. The cultivated plant is kept pruned to a height of 1.20 metres, the height of the “harvesting table”. Tea plants are usually grown by cuttings from selected rootstock.
For its first five years the plant is gradually pruned and trained to the desired shape; harvesting begins after the fifth year. Cultivated plants have an economic life of 40-50 years; in their wild state, they may easily live for 100 or more years.
Kinds of teas and single origin teas
All teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant: it is how the leaves are harvested and processed that determines whether the final product will be a white, green, blue-green (Oolong) or black tea.
Some differences are also due to the geographical and climatic conditions in which the plants are grown.
One very important distinction between teas refers to the type of plantation, or garden, in which they are grown. These are classified like vineyards, according to quality criteria. Teas that come from tea gardens are the equivalent of AOC (“controlled name of origin”) wines. Obviously, only a tea that has not been blended with teas from other sources can be given the name of a specific estate.