Become a tea gardner and grow your own loose leaf tea! It does not require much space, a container on a porch or balcony will do just fine for a tea plant. Of course, Camellia sinensis is the tea plant that produces those delicious teas we have grown to love. This one little plant is responsible for providing us with white tea, organic green tea, as well as black and oolong tea. The difference in them is the oxidation process blooming tea balls they go through after harvesting and drying. The various processes are responsible for giving each tea a different flavor, scent and appearance.
Growing Camellia sinensis is not difficult, but does take patience. It takes about three to four years for a plant to start producing those precious tiny buds that we use to brew tea. A typical tea plant will result in over one pound of dried tea after processing. The tea plant is a beautiful and ornamental bush that is pruned to constantly encourage new growth. This pruning helps to maintain the spreading shrub between two to five feet high.
There are 2 times each year that tea is harvested. Early spring yields the fattest and tender buds that are best for white tea. Summer is the time for the second harvest. Each harvest is considered a “plucking” or “flush”. The tea plant has beautiful white and deliciously fragrant flowers that bloom in the late fall and winter months. This is truly a plant that can give each of your senses pleasure year round.
So what is oxidation and how does it affect your newly harvested tea? Oxidation is the process that changes our fruit we cut brown when it is exposed to the air. The oxygen molecules in the tea react to the air and a “burning” process occurs.
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Black tea is picked and then allowed to wither for a few days. The green tea leaves turn to a copper color. The leaves are then exposed to hot air to take the remaining moisture out and the leaves change to a dark color. Black tea is the most common of teas; the most popular black teas are “Earl Grey” and “English breakfast tea”. English Breakfast is known for its strong bitter taste and is usually enjoyed with milk and sugar!
It is hard to image that loose leaf green tea is grown from the same plant as black tea. Black tea when brewed has such a pretty copper color to it when you drink it. Organic green tea has a yellow to a green color to it. Green tea tastes and smells of natural grass. Green tea is allowed to wither just as black tea. The next step is very important. The leaves are steamed or pan fried to stop the oxidation process. This allows the leaves to stay green. The leaves are then dried with hot air and prepared for storage.
Oolong tea is the tea that goes through the oxidation process that is somewhere between green and black tea. Oolong tea is only allowed to be partially oxided. It is allowed to wither for just a short period of time in the sun, before it is brought indoors an allowed to return to room temperature. It is then air dried under high heat before preparing it for storage.