Tea (Camellia sinensis) probably originated in the triangle of upland Myanmar, Assam in India and Yunnan in China which roughly accords to USDA zone 9 - 10. After a long history of tea being brought to different countries and continents, cultivars were selected which are much more cold hardy, with some surviving even in zone 6b. Especially the cultivars from the Black Sea coast, Caucasus mountains, Korea and Japan are generally cold hardier. The cultivars 'Rosea', 'Korea', 'Sochi', 'Super Sochi' and 'Small Leaf' are some of the hardiest.
Tea needs a good draining and acidic soil for successful growth. Wild blueberrys indicate the proper soil conditions (the pH should be between 4,5 - 5,5) while grown ornamental Camellias can be good indicators for a suitable climate. Furthermore tea requires high and even rainfalls during the growing season and doesn't like drought during summer, which with regard to climate change can be or become challenging in many areas. Temperatures between 20 - 30°C (68 - 86°F) are ideal.
Early morning shade from evergreens in winter prevents ice and snow, which act as insulation, to melt in the cold early morning. That gives a protection in cold climate. In the summer months shade during midday and afternoon help to prevent heat stress and high evaporation. Also large waterbodies or other objects with a lot of thermal mass like big stones or walls, can regulate cold temperatures but they should not get too hot during summer.
As tea is a natural understory plant and grows good in halfshade, especially in regions with hot and dry summers, shade trees might be of importance.
The tea plant in the above picture is about 20 years old, came from the Camellia Forest Nursery and is probably the cultivar 'Korea' or 'Small Leaf'. It grows at Mountain Gardens in North Carolina near Mount Mitchell at a height of almost exactly 1000 m above sea level (3280 feet). It stand in decidious shade and near but not right next to a house.
So the first flush of leaves to be picked in the standard grade "two leaves and a bud" happened to be around the 6th of May. I picked everything I could find on that plant which ended up not being very much as the plant is not pruned or harvested regularly, and it is only one plant.
The leaves can be used fresh for a tea or further processed into all sorts of different types like white, green, red or black tea. To make green tea I harvested the leaves in the morning and let them wilt for around 6 hours in a shady spot inside. Then I put them in a clean wok on medium heat for 3 minutes while stiring them with my hand. Afterwards they were "rolled" by putting them in a cheesecloth and pressing them, from time to time opening the cheesecloth and mixing them, for about 20 minutes. During this process the water gets pressed out of the leaves and coats them. Then I dried the leaves in the wok on low heat and stiring all the time until they started to get crunchy. If they get too dry they fall apart.
- "Grow your own Tea - the complete guide to cultivating, harvesting and preparing" by Christine Parks and Susan M. Walcott.
Interesting blogs about tea:
Nurseries selling tea cultivars:
- camforest.com (North Carolina, USA)
- camelliashop.com (Georgia, USA)
- mintoislandtea.com (Oregon, USA)
- nucciosnurseries.com (California, USA)
- tregothnan.co.uk (Cornwall, England)
- lubera.com (Niedersachsen, Germany)