The modest tea harvest

Camellia sinensis, the tea camellia, flowering at the end of March

With just one sizeable bush of the tea camellia, C. sinensis, the harvest was never going to be huge but after fiddly-faddling with a few minor efforts in recent years, I was determined to get as much as I could this year. I now have considerable respect for the tea-pickers of Sri Lanka and India but I assume one gets faster with practice. Mark tells me he has another three plants ready to be put out into the garden so we should, with more attention, be able to increase the harvest, though we are unlikely to achieve self sufficiency.

The first, small pick of tender tea tips

Harvesting is picking just the top two or sometimes three leaves from each growing tip, just as they are unfurling and still very soft and young.

The tea bag has a lot to answer for in terms of reducing the drinking of tea to the most convenient but mundane and utility level of activity. Where is the romance? Let alone the quality? Even worse are the gourmet tea bags which appear to be packaged in individual nylon bags and are therefore non-biodegradable, whatever the packet says. As our lives have become more leisured here at Tikorangi, we reinstated the old ways of making good loose-leaf tea in a teapot for the afternoon cup. Sometimes I bring T2 loose leaf tea back with me from Australia but we also have a New Zealand mailorder supplier at Tea Total and I have come to conclusion I prefer their teas. It is not as cheap as supermarket tea but for the afternoon ritual, we think the better quality and flavour is worth every cent.

Spreading on a flat tray to lightly oxidise and dry

My home-grown tea is free. Because we like aromatic teas, I have flavoured three batches differently. The first is lemon scented – I added some of the young leaves of the lemon myrtle – Backhousia citriodora. The second batch I dried with orange blossom (proper orange, not the mock orange philadelphus) and a few fine peelings of the outer rind of an orange and rose petals. The third was lime (lime blossoms and few young leaves) with mint and rose petals.

The yield from a tray is not large once it has dried – but fresh and aromatic

We tried making straight green tea in the past, first from fresh leaves straight into the pot and the then with leaves just wilted and left overnight. The taste was perhaps just a little too subtle for our palates. Now I do a process somewhere between green and black tea – bruising the leaves and leaving them covered overnight (which starts the oxidation process). Then I sun dry them on flat tray – which can take from one to three days, depending on the strength of the sun. And voila! Fresh tea ready for the pot. With no packaging and no carbon footprint.

In answer to the question as to whether there are different camellias for different teas, I quote Wikipedia: “Camellia sinensis and its subspecies, Camellia sinensis var. assamica, are two major varieties grown today. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea and black tea are all harvested from one or the other, but are processed differently to attain varying levels of oxidation.” There are different selections of the species and some will have different characteristics, but the vast majority of tea sold in the world is indeed from Camellia sinensis.

Our form of sinensis is pink flowered which is unusual. But I think I strategically placed additional flowers to make this photo showier than it is in real life.

8 thoughts on “The modest tea harvest

  1. tropicfan

    this is great to read, I have just planted my first tea after getting bacck from Sri Lanka so wait in anticipation. I am goiing to plant about 8 eventually

  2. Philippa Foes-Lamb

    How wonderful Abbie!! You are inspiring me to plant a Camelia sinensis now! We always use leaf tea, as did Dad and when I have to have tea-bag tea my toes quietly curl up while I’m drinking it. There’s no way round it, it always tastes FOUL! Your flavour combinations sound fabulous too!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are big fans of French Earl Grey and some of the other flavoured teas so I felt sure we could achieve something similar with home additives.

  3. Catherine Cheung

    I was just commenting to Fiona (on the way out yesterday) that the most fragrant tree in my garden at the moment is the orange (40 years old), not knowing that you’ve put orange blossom and rind to your tea, sounds divine! Have you read ‘For all the tea in China’ by Sarah Rose? A wonderful exciting read…

  4. tonytomeo

    Camellias were our third minor crop after rhododendrons and azaleas, but alas, no tea camellia. One of our clients gave me one in exchange for one of our Camellia reticulatas. He wanted only one, but did not want to place an order for any significant quantity. Unfortunately, the tea camellia did not survive. I grew thousands of camellias, and the one that did not survive was the tea camellia. Anyway, I will grow it again someday, but probably only for green tea. I already have the ‘Bouquet de Fleur’ bitter orange for flavoring.

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