Cultivation and Harvesting
Camellia sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates. Some varieties can also tolerate marine climates and are cultivated as far north as Pembrokeshire in the British mainland and Washington in the United States.
Tea plants are propagated from seed and by cutting; it takes about 4 to 12 years for a tea plant to bear seed, and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting. In addition to a zone 8 climate or warmer, tea plants require at least 127 cm (50 inches) of rainfall a year and prefer acidic soils. Many high-quality tea plants are cultivated at elevations of up to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level: at these heights, the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavor.
Only the top 1-2 inches of the mature plant are picked. These buds and leaves are called "flushes". A plant will grow a new flush every seven to 15 days during the growing season, and leaves that are slow in development always produce better-flavored teas.
A tea plant will grow into a tree of up to 16 m (52 ft) if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking.
Two principal varieties are used: the China plant (C. s. sinensis), used for most Chinese, Formosan and Japanese teas (but not Pu-erh); and the clonal Assam tea plant (C. s. assamica), used in most Indian and other teas (but not Darjeeling). Within these botanical varieties, there are many strains and modern Indian clonal varieties. Leaf size is the chief criterion for the classification of tea plants, with three primary classifications being: Assam type, characterized by the largest leaves; China type, characterized by the smallest leaves; and Cambod, characterized by leaves of intermediate size.
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... for a tea plant to bear seed, and about three years before a new plant is ready for harvesting ...
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—J. Ellen Foster (18401910)