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Tea 201 - Varietals - What's in a breed? (Camelia Sinensis)

Camelia Sinensis var Sinensis
Camelia Sinensis var Sinensis

Tea. Camellia sinensis. By now you should be well familiar with these words and how they are synonymous with each other.  This evergreen plant from the countries of hot climates with its delicate little white flowers and yellow stamens should be seared into your mind.  It is the mother of all tea.  But now, I think you are ready for some mind blowing news: there are actually two varietals of the Camellia sinensis! Gasp!

The first’s formal name is actually Camellia sinensis sinensis.  This varietal has smaller leaves and loves cool and high mountains like in central China and Japan.  This plant can reach a maximum height of 10 feet or so.  Little known fact: this plant is a bush unlike the other varietals which are trees.

The second varietal is known as Camellia sinensis assamica.  This plant thrives in lower elevations in more moist and tropical regions like in Northeast India and the Yunnan and Szechuan provinces of China.  This plant is much larger than its counterpart.  Potentially reaching up to 65 feet tall, this is not the varietal you would want growing in your back yard.

But wait! There’s one more varietal that I had forgotten to mention.  There is also the Camellia sinensis cambodiensis (also known as Camellia sinensis parvifolia) also known as the “java bush.”  This breed has been mainly cross bred to allow for certain traits, the Java bush is not usually used for commercial tea production.  It is considered a hybrid plant and is rarely cultivated on its own.  It is a multi-trunked tree (like the assamica) but shorter in height (like the sinensis).

Just when you thought that tea was as simple as one plant…

What do you think, dear readers? Every time you drink a cup of tea, I challenge you to question what varietal you’re drinking!