The tea bush is actually not a bush in its natural habitat. When it grows in the wild the tea tree could reach a height of 20 metres, but when commercially cultivated it’s rarely any higher than 1.5 metres. And it’s normally only the two youngest leaves and a bud that is picked when producing high quality tea, thus the famous expression “two leaves and a bud”.
Countries that cultivate tea
Tea is cultivated around the world in countries where the climate is suitable. Most tea is cultivated in Asia, but there are also plantations in Europe, Africa, Australia and America. There are approximately 50 countries that cultivate tea, of which the four greatest are China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka (see Statistics).
- China is the biggest tea producer in the world. The Chinese mainly cultivate green tea, but also plenty of oolong, black tea, and the other varieties. Tea is cultivated in 16 or 17 Chinese provinces.
- India is the second largest producer, but is these days far behind China in terms of total production. India produces mainly black tea, and almost no green tea. Two famous production areas are Assam and Darjeeling.
- Kenya produces mainly black tea.
- Sri Lanka produces black Ceylon tea.
Factors that influence flavour and quality
The following factors will influence the flavour and quality of tea.
- Geography: the soil and location. The soil should be somewhat acid with a pH of 4.5–5.5 in order for the tea plant to flourish. A high altitude will cause the tea plant to grow slowly, and hence gather more and better flavours. This is why high quality teas are cultivated in the mountains, but the altitude must not be too high, since the plant is sensitive to cold and frost. The tea plant is also sensitive to floods, which makes mountain slopes the ideal location for tea cultivation, since the water will not be stagnant.
- Climate: precipitation, sun hours and temperature. The sun is needed in order for the essential oils to be produced, but temporary shade is also required during hot summer days. This combination of sun and shade will produce a better and sweeter flavour. Therefore, big trees are often planted among the tea bushes. The tea plant requires at least 1.200–1.500 millimetres of rain per year. The tea bush will flourish in a subtropical and hot climate, but will produce a better flavour in a cooler climate, which can found in mountainous areas.
- Tea bush: the type of bush, age and how well it’s taken cared of will influence the quality of the finished product.
- Plucking: the time of year, the skill of the picker, and which are picked will influence the quality. The highest quality teas will only consist of the youngest and finest buds, but normally the two youngest leaves and one bud is picked. Tea leaves that are gathered by hand is often better and more expensive than machine picked.