Camellia Sinensis - The Tea Plant
Tea is an experience, an art form of sorts. In the words of Confucius, it “tempers the spirits and harmonises the mind”. But where, exactly, does it come from? The answer lies in a single, most remarkable plant: Camellia Sinensis - the Tea plant.
In this article, we will look into the facts, figures, history and health benefits of Camellia Sinensis. We will delve deep into the ‘whats’, ‘whys’, ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, all the while examining the journey from leaf to cup. And once you know its story, you can try over 1,000 types of Tea here with us.
The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company pack all of our products, including Loose Tea and Tea Bags, fresh to order. This is our way of guaranteeing not only quality but also consistency. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the beginning.
What is Camellia Sinensis?
Camellia Sinensis is the plant used in the making of traditional Tea. It can grow to become either an evergreen shrub or a small tree of up to 6 metres tall.
The leaves it produces are elliptic, bright green and shiny with slightly hairy undersides. At their edges, they are minutely serrated, with each tooth curving partially inwards. It's these leaves used in the making of your morning brew.
The flowers, meanwhile, are yellow-white, slightly scented, bisexual, and can grow up to 4 centimetres in diameter in pairs or clusters. Also noteworthy are the seeds, which, alongside its cousin Camellia Oleifera, can be pressed to yield Tea oil. This is not to be confused with Tea tree oil, however, which is an essential oil mostly used for cosmetic purposes.
Most believe that Camellia Sinensis originates from China; however, there are other species that grow in other countries. Nevertheless, its name literally translates “from China”, with the plant itself likely evolving in the Eastern Himalayas. This region, despite its captivating beauty, is one of the most plant-rich and, as such, competitive ecosystems in the world.
To survive, many theorise that Camellia Sinensis developed a certain stimulating chemical compound (more on this later) to attract primates. Initially, this indeed appealed to monkeys, but eventually, it also became enticing to another primate: Homo Sapiens. For many thousands of years, humans have held Camellia Sinensis in high regard. And with good reason, too.
History of Camellia Sinensis
Legend has it that the human discovery of Camellia Sinensis dates back over 5,000 years to 2737 BCE. In other words, your favourite cuppa, in one form or another, first came into existence many millennia ago.
But Who Discovered Tea? Factually, no one knows. However, there remains one popular myth from China that tries to shed light on this mystery.
Folklore alludes to an ancient Emperor and avid herbalist named Shennong 神農 (or Shen Nung) making the discovery by pure accident. According to the tale, Shennong, after a day of experimenting with herbs, decided to rest underneath an unknown tree. He eventually fell asleep in the midday sun with a cup of boiling water by his side.
While the Emperor dozed, a gust of wind came through the tree. Leaves fell to the ground, with some landing in Shennong’s drink. The leaves began to infuse with the water. When Shennong awoke, he discovered a strange, greenish beverage next to him. Intrigued, he decided to try it. The Emperor was delighted by the scent and delicious taste. He also felt invigorated and refreshed.
Without knowing it at the time, Shennong had just uncovered the secrets of Camellia Sinensis - or so the story goes. Regardless of its truth, the incredible legacy of Shennong’s alleged escapades is undeniable. Today, Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water.
Types of Tea Plant
It’s no secret that there are four primary tea types: Black, Green, White and Oolong - each one the product of different processing methods.
However, there are also several Types of Tea PLANT. The two main varieties used in the making of Tea are the Chinese Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis and the Indian Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica. Both belong to the botanical family, Theaceae.
Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis: This type was likely the first known to humanity. As mentioned previously, its leaves boast a unique appearance and, ultimately, taste. China Black Tea is one noteworthy example of a beverage made from Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis. Others include Yunnan, Keemun, Pu erh and Jasmine Green Tea.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an ancient holistic approach to wellbeing, was one of the first medical approaches to ‘adopt’ Tea. According to this age-old practice, Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis can promote body fluid production, clear heat and phlegm and improve digestion. Interestingly, some of these health benefits of Tea have since been proven by modern science.
Camellia Sinensis var Sinensis
This type was likely the first known to humanity. As mentioned previously, its leaves boast a unique appearance and, ultimately, taste. China Black Tea is one noteworthy example of a beverage made from Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis. Others include Yunnan, Keemun, Pu erh and Jasmine Green Tea.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an ancient holistic approach to wellbeing, was one of the first medical approaches to ‘adopt’ Tea.
According to this age-old practice, Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis can promote body fluid production, clear heat and phlegm and improve digestion. Interestingly, some of these health benefits of Tea have since been proven by modern science.
Camellia Sinensis var Assamica
While China’s Camellia Sinensis plant has been consumed for thousands of years, Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica only became known in the 19th-century. It was a Scottish explorer named Robert Bruce who discovered the plant growing in Assam - hence its botanical name, Assamica.
In terms of appearance, India’s Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica shares many similarities to its Chinese counterpart. Apart from Assam Tea, other varieties made from it include Chai Tea and, perhaps more surprisingly, Kenya Tea.
Contrary to popular belief, the Indian district of Darjeeling creates Darjeeling Tea using the Chinese variety.
Camellia Sinensis Caffeine
We’ve already established that Camellia Sinensis contains a certain chemical compound known and loved by animals and humans alike. That stimulant in question is caffeine, which upon consumption, is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream before eventually travelling to the brain. Indeed, the Effects of Caffeine are one of the primary reasons why so many people choose to drink Tea.
And so the question now begs: how much caffeine does Tea contain? As it turns out, this depends on the type of Tea chosen. Black Tea, which is the most processed variety, has the highest amount with about 40 mg per 8 oz cup.
Oolong Tea, on the other hand, contains 35-37 mg. Next, there is Green Tea Caffeine, which offers approximately 30 mg. Finally, White Tea stands with just 15 mg.
Any so-called ‘real’ Tea (as opposed to Herbal and Fruit Tisanes) contains at least trace amounts of caffeine. This even applies to Decaf Tea, which, despite undergoing decaffeination, has a minimal percentage of the stimulant left behind after processing.
Camellia Sinensis Benefits
The frequent consumption of Tea, no matter the type, does more than get you out of bed in the morning. Indeed, according to the latest scientific research, it can improve life in small yet significant ways. That’s pretty amazing for just your average morning cuppa, huh?
But how does it all work? The primary reason for the health benefits of Camellia Sinensis is due to its abundance in antioxidants, which in turn combat the natural, though harmful, process of oxidation.
In particular, antioxidants neutralise unpaired (and unsafe!) electrons called free radicals. Ultimately, this reduces the risk of developing a multitude of chronic conditions.
It’s worth noting, however, that different types of Tea offer different medicinal qualities. Black Tea benefits, for example, include improved oral health (yes, you read that correctly) and enhanced cognitive function.
Green Tea Benefits, in comparison, most famously promotes weight loss. Then there is Oolong, which most consider an excellent digestive aid. Finally, White Tea, which contains the highest amount of antioxidants owing to its limited processing, is the perfect choice for one’s skin.
The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company has several blogs on our website showcasing the many outstanding benefits of Tea. Be sure to browse through them while discovering more about the incredible abilities of Camellia Sinensis.
Camellia Sinensis Conclusion
Camellia Sinensis is a plant loved and admired by many. It first existed in China but has since spread to several countries around the world. Nevertheless, only a couple of species can be used in the making of Tea: Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis and Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica.
Both of these types contain caffeine, thus making them especially popular among those looking for an extra boost. Yet the precise levels of this stimulant vary from Black to Green to White to Oolong Tea. Likewise, a similar rule applies to the health benefits of Tea.
All that’s left now, then, is for you to try Camellia Sinensis in its finest form - as a nice, warming brew. Whatever your preference, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company undoubtedly have a beverage that suits your wants and needs. Start exploring today.