Q: I have a tea camellia, Camellia sinensis in my back yard. Can I make tea from its leaves?
A: You are welcome to try … but don’t expect to give Mr. Lipton a run for his money! Tea is made from the tip bud plus a few lower leaves plucked from tea camellias grown on plantations. Most are in the Orient, but there is actually a tea plantation near Charleston (800-443-5987). After the tea leaves are harvested, they are dried for several hours to reduce their water content. The leaves are then crushed slightly and allowed to oxidize (visualize how an apple slice darkens after being cut) for varying lengths of time. Black tea, such as Orange Pekoe, is made from leaves that have oxidized the longest. Oolong tea is made from leaves that have oxidized a shorter time. Leaves to be made into green tea are steamed just after drying. This destroys the enzymes which cause darkening.
After the leaves are oxidized or steamed, they are dried and packaged. Teas also differ according to where the plants grew (such as Darjeeling, in India) or the part of the plant harvested (Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). Word on the street is that social tea consumption may soon become as popular as convivial coffee drinking. “Tetleybucks” anyone?