Camellia Sinensis. Origin, Taxonomy, and Everything You Need to Know About the Tea Plant

Camellia Sinensis. Origin, Taxonomy, and Everything You Need to Know About the Tea Plant.
camellia sinensis cultivation

It’s a well-known fact that tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water, reflecting its influence across the globe and within all levels of society. But what is the origin of this age-old product that is so present in our daily lives? The answer lies in this plant: Camellia sinensis.

As tea professionals, it’s crucial to understand that every product we sell is the result of a fascinating process that begins with this plant. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore its taxonomy, varieties, origin, and everything you need to know about this raw material.

Contents

Origin and Distribution

Its origin can be traced to Southeast Asia, in the borderlands between China and Laos, although it can also grow in other areas as long as there is a tropical or subtropical climate, well-drained soil, and annual rainfall of over 1,300 mm. Thus, it is primarily found in regions such as China, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka.

Over the centuries, it has been cultivated in various parts of the world, from Africa to Latin America, adapting to different climates and geographical conditions.

The tea plant is particularly known for its great adaptability and versatility, as it can withstand extreme weather conditions such as snow and prolonged humid heat.

Taxonomy of Camellia Sinensis

Camellia Sinensis is the scientific name for what we know as the tea plant, which comes from the family Theaceae, genus Camellia, and species Sinensis.

Camellia sinensis belongs to the family Theaceae and is the plant species responsible for producing all the varieties of tea we know. It is a perennial tree with serrated, lush leaves of vivid dark green colour.

It is classified within the genus Camellia, which includes a wide variety of species, but it is Camellia sinensis that is specifically cultivated for its leaves, which produce raw tea.

Botanical Classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Ericales
  • Family: Theaceae
  • Tribe: Theeae
  • Genus: Camellia
  • Species: Camellia sinensis
  • Variety or cultivar: Sinensis, assamica, cambodiensis

Camellia Sinensis Varieties

Although Camellia sinensis is a single species, several subtypes and varieties have developed over time, each with its unique characteristics that influence the taste, aroma, and appearance of the tea they produce.

Therefore, whether you’re considering starting your career in the tea trade or looking to enhance your knowledge professionally, it’s essential to become familiar with the main subtypes of this plant:

1. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis:

Also known as the “Chinese jat (Variety)”, this subspecies is renowned for its smaller and delicate leaves and its resistance to cold. It is primarily cultivated in China and is used to produce mainly green teas and white teas.

2. Camellia sinensis var. assamica or “Assam jat”:

Native to the Assam region in India, this subspecies has larger, broader, and more robust leaves, adapted to warmer and more humid climates. It is primarily used to produce black teas, such as Assam and Ceylon.

3. Camellia sinensis var. cambodiensis:

This subspecies is less common and is mainly found in Cambodia and some parts of Vietnam and Thailand. It is believed to be an ancestor of the two other main subspecies.

Cultivation and Processing

The cultivation of Camellia sinensis is a laborious process that requires meticulous attention to detail, from selecting the appropriate variety to soil care and pest management. Depending on the type of tea being produced and the traditional practices of the region, the tea leaves are harvested by hand or with specific machines.

Once harvested, the leaves undergo different processes to produce the various types of tea available on the market, such as white tea, pu erh, oolong, green, black, yellow, etc. For example, green tea is dried and exposed to steam to preserve its bright green colour and fresh flavour, while black tea is oxidized and fermented to develop its characteristic dark colour and robust flavour.

The most curious fact, which many of your customers may not know, is that all types of tea come from the same source: Camellia Sinensis. The magic behind their flavour characteristics lies in how the oxidation of the leaves is carried out. In essence, they are different expressions of the same source, as they share the same genetic base.

Conclusion

In summary, Camellia sinensis is much more than a simple plant; it is the life force behind one of the most consumed and appreciated beverages worldwide. As tea professionals, understanding the taxonomy, subtypes, origin, and cultivation of the tea plant is essential to truly appreciate the complexity and beauty of this age-old beverage.

By deepening our knowledge, we can enrich our experience and share our love for tea with our customers in an even more meaningful way.

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Alveus Blog Team

Editorial team formed by tea professionals from different countries. We are driven by our passion for tea and the dissemination of its culture.

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