Camellia sinensis is the species of plant whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce Chinese tea. It is of the genus Camellia, a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae. White tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea and black tea are all harvested from this species, but are processed differently to attain different levels of oxidation. Kukicha (twig tea) is also harvested from Camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves. Common names include tea plant, tea tree, and tea shrub.

There are two major varieties used for tea, Chinese tea, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, and Assam tea, Camellia sinensis var. assamica.[1]

Nomenclature and taxonomy[]

Camellia sinensis plant, with cross-section of the flower (lower left) and seeds (lower right).

The name Camellia is taken from the Latinized name of Rev. Georg Kamel,[2] S.J. (1661–1706), a Czech-born Jesuit lay brother, pharmacist, and missionary to the Philippines. Carl Linnaeus chose his name for the genus to honor Kamel's contributions to botany (alhough Kamel did not discover or name this plant, or any Camellia, and Linnaeus did not consider this plant a Camellia but a Thea). The name sinensis means from China in Latin.

Four varieties of Camellia sinensis are recognized.[3] Of these C. sinensis var. sinensis and C. sinensis var. assamica (J. W. Masters) Kitamura are most commonly used for tea, and C. sinensis var. pubilimba Hung T. Chang and C. sinensis var. dehungensis (Hung T. Chang & B. H. Chen) T. L. Ming are sometimes used locally.[3]

List of the cultivars[]

  • Benifuuki [4]
  • Fushun [5]
  • Kanayamidori [4]
  • Meiryoku [5]
  • Saemidori [5]
  • Okumidori [5]
  • Yabukita [5]
  • Uji Hikari[6] - a premium tea cultivar developed in Kyoto for producing matcha tea.
  • Gokou[6] - developed especially for the climate of the Kyoto region and for producing matcha tea.
  • Zairai - term in Japan used to refer to a field that does not consist of a specific cultivar.


Chinese Camellia sinensis is native to mainland China, South and Southeast Asia, but it is today cultivated across the world in tropical and subtropical regions. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is usually trimmed to below two metres (six feet) when cultivated for its leaves. It has a strong taproot. The flowers are yellow-white, 2.5–4 cm in diameter, with 7 to 8 petals.

The seeds of Camellia sinensis and Camellia oleifera can be pressed to yield tea oil, a sweetish seasoning and cooking oil that should not be confused with tea tree oil, an essential oil that is used for medical and cosmetic purposes, and originates from the leaves of a different plant.

The leaves are 4–15 cm long and 2–5 cm broad. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffeine.[7] The young, light green leaves are preferably harvested for tea production; they have short white hairs on the underside. Older leaves are deeper green. Different leaf ages produce differing tea qualities, since their chemical compositions are different. Usually, the tip (bud) and the first two to three leaves are harvested for processing. This hand picking is repeated every one to two weeks.


Camellia sinensis is mainly cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates, in areas with at least 127 cm. (50 inches) of rainfall a year. However, the clonal one is commercially cultivated from the equator to as far north as Cornwall on the UK mainland.[8] Many high quality teas are grown at high elevations, up to 1500 meters (5,000 ft), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavour.

Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking. Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved Chinese variety plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the large-leaved Assamese plant (C. sinensis assamica), used mainly for black tea.

Indian teas[]

There are three main kinds of tea produced in India:

Assam - Assam tea comes from the northeastern section of the country. This heavily forested region is home to much wildlife, including the rhinoceros. Tea from here is rich and full-bodied. It was in Assam that the first tea estate was established, in 1837.

Darjeeling - The Darjeeling region is cool and wet, and tucked in the foothills of the Himalayas. The tea is delicately flavored, and considered to be one of the finest teas in the world. The Darjeeling plantations have 3 distinct harvests, termed 'flushes', and the tea produced from each flush has a unique flavor. First (spring) flush teas are light and aromatic, while the second (summer) flush produces tea with a bit more bite. The third, or autumn flush gives a tea that is lesser in quality.

Nilgiri - This tea comes from an even higher part of India than Darjeeling. This southern Indian region has elevations between 1,000 and 2,500 metres. The flavors of Nilgiri teas are subtle and rather gentle. They are frequently blended with other, more robust teas.

Chinese teas[]

The Chinese plant (sometimes called C. sinensis var. sinensis) is a small-leaved bush with multiple stems that reaches a height of some 3 meters. It is native to southeast China. The first tea plant to be discovered, recorded and used to produce tea three thousand years ago, it yields some of the most popular teas.

C. sinensis var. waldenae was considered a different species, Camellia waldenae by S.Y.Hu,[9] but it was later identified as a variety of C. sinensis.[10] This variety is commonly called Waldenae Camellia. It is seen on Sunset Peak and Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong. It is also distributed in Guangxi Province, China.[9]

Pests and diseases[]

See also List of Lepidoptera that feed on Camellia

Tea leaves are eaten by some herbivores, like the caterpillars of the willow beauty (Peribatodes rhomboidaria), a geometer moth.

Medical uses[]

  • The leaves have been used in traditional Chinese medicine and other medical systems to treat asthma (functioning as a bronchodilator), angina pectoris, peripheral vascular disease, and coronary artery disease.
  • Tea extracts have become a field of interest, due to their notional antibacterial activity. The preservation of processed organic food and the treatment of persistent bacterial infections are particularly being investigated.
  • Green tea leaves and extracts have shown to be effective against bacteria responsible for bad breath.
  • The tea component epicatechin gallate is being researched because in vitro experiments showed it can reverse methicillin resistance in bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus. If confirmed, this means the combined intake of a tea extract containing this component might also enhance the effectiveness of methicillin treatment against some resistant bacteria in vivo.

See also[]

Notes and references[]

This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Camellia sinensis.
The list of authors can be seen in the page history.
As with WikiTea, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Licence.
  1. ITIS Standard Report Page Camellia Sinensis retrieved 2009-03-28.
  2. Stafleu, F.A.; Cowan, R.S. (1976–1988). Taxonomic literature: A selective guide to botanical publications and collections with dates, commentaries and types. Second Edition. Utrecht: Bohn, Scheltema and Holkema. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tianlu Min & Bruce Bartholomew. "18. Theaceae". Flora of China. 12. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Food and Agriculture Organization. "Identification of Japanese tea (Camellia sinensis) cultivars using SSR marker".;JP2008002305. Retrieved 5 June 2009. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Food and Agriculture Organization. "Varietal differences in the adaptability of tea [Camellia sinensis cultivars to light nitrogen application"].;JP2008003777. Retrieved 5 June 2009. 
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. "Camellia sinensis". Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  8. Telegraph Online, 17 September 2005.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The International Camellia Society (ICS)
  10. Ming, T. L. (1992) A revision of Camellia sect. Thea. Acta Botanica Yunnanica. 14(2), 115-132. In Chinese.