Giving Up the Tea!
By Calla Victoria
I recently attended a Tea Party and lecture hosted by the Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans (MGGNO), of which I am a member. I love tea parties with the fancy hats and all of the sweet treats! I have been to many Tea parties, but what made this Tea party different is that it was all about the origin of tea and the plant that teas come from. The speakers were three members of the Mizell family, owners of Mizell’s Camellia Hill Nursery and the quintessential final word on camellias in the south.
We all love camellias and there are many varieties of camellias, but one specific variety of camellia, the Camellia sinensis, is where all teas come from; green tea, brown tea, and black tea. The variation in tea color comes from the processing time of the tea leaves. Tea drinking started in the orient in 2737 B.C. and was discovered by Emperor Shen Nung. He was warming some water under a tree and a few of the leaves fell into the water, he drank it and loved the taste, the exhilaration and the rest is history.
The Camellia sinensis grow in three leaf sizes, the small leaf, the large leaf, and the red leaf variety, and they look a little straggly compared to the japonicas and sasanquas. Pinching the new leaves at the very tips of the branches of the Camellia sinensis is what is used to make tea. And the more you pinch the better because the plant will produce more new young leaves for you to harvest. Don’t be afraid of doing this because, unlike other camellias, the Camellia sinensis does not flower from the ends of its branches but buds along the base of the branches. The flowers are very small as this species of camellia is garnered for its leaves (tea leaves) and not for its blooms. The Camellia sinensis blooms in the fall like the Camellia sasanqua, but you can harvest the leaves year round. The Camellia sinensis can take full sun but planting them with some shade is recommended in hot climates, and they do like well drained acidic soil.
After harvesting the young leaves of the Camellia sinensis, the leaves are then rolled, dried, and then dropped in water to make tea. Green tea takes the least time to make, just by virtue of the fact that the leaves are still green gives you an indication of that. We know that once we remove a leaf from a plant, that leave starts to die because it is no longer attached to a living plant thus not getting what it needs to survive. Therefore if the leaf is still green it was not long after the leaf was harvested that it became tea because the longer the leaf is dying the darker it gets…right?
Traditional teas are made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, but I do love making mint tea by harvesting mint leaves. Basically I harvest the leaves, wash them well, stuff them into a gallon-sized plastic bottle, fill the bottle with water, put the cap on it, and let it sit out in the sun for a couple of days until the water gets dark. Then I pour the liquid through a funnel, with a strainer screen, into another gallon-sized container, add sugar and refrigerate. The more mint leaves you put into the bottle the stronger and more refreshing the mint tea will be.
Well ta-ta for now because I am going to harvest some tea leaves and make my own tea cause you know I bought a Camellia sinensis after the lecture! You can peruse more information on teas and buy your own tea plant on Mizell’s website.
Remember, never get too busy to stop and enjoy the beautiful flowers!