'Camellia sinensis' is the ‘mother tea plant’. It is from ‘this tea plant/bush’ that the different variants and hybrids origins. This do need an explanation.
The tea plant has for centuries grown wild in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia including in some of southern China, Yunnan, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia and up to northern Assam in India.
The Swedish botanist Linnaeus was the first to categorize the tea plant taxonomy, meaning in plant names. In 1753 is the first time the tea plant is described by Linnaeus in ‘his Species Plantarum’ as ‘Thea sinensis’ on page 515 Volume 1, and duplicated in Volume 2 on page 698 BUT as ‘Camellia sinensis’.
This has given rise to some discussion as to whether there are two types of tea, namely the ‘long leaf’ variety found in Assam in Northern India and the ‘narrow leaf’ variety originally found in China.
In recent times, the plant and the flower have been studied further and down to DNA level, and it has been concluded that there is ONLY one ‘species’ namely ‘Camellia sinensis‘. The two main variants that exist are the ‘Assam’ variant and the ‘Chinese’ variant. In addition, there is also a ‘subspecies/variant’ in Cambodia. Today modern techniques down to the molecular level have found that all tea plants originate as hybrids of these three main types.
The main species that therefore exist are:
‘Camellia sinensis var sinensis’ which mainly grows in China and the rest of Asia. This is a shrub and can grow up to about 5 meters in height. (In old days when growing wild it could grow up to 30 m). This is the ‘narrow leaf’.
‘Camellia sinensis var assamica’ originally grows in northern India in the Assam area and is more of a tree than a shrub as it has a shallow trunk and can grow up to 14-18 m tall. This is the ‘long leaf’.
‘Camellia sinensis var Parvifolia’ the Cambodian tea bush. However, this is not grown commercially.
With this, we can state that there are three varieties that kind of ‘are Camellia sinensis’, which is why tea is so complex with so many different stories and hybrids, and on the more sensory level with all the flavors, notes, scents and colors, and how they are treated.
In addition to the varieties and many hybrids, the place of growth must also be taken into consideration when talking about height above the water surface, soil conditions, weather, temperature, water volumes and fog. Then, of course, the way the tea has been treated also have an impact on the tea leaves.
Many tea plantations have their own traditions for how to handle their tea bushes and tea leaves, so they get the same result every time, which sometimes can give small differences from year to year.
That’s why tea is so complex, fascinating and we find it as ‘an art form’.