Haha! That would be TEA!!
Green tea, oolong tea, and black tea all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. You can grow this large bushy plant in the United States in zones 7, 8, and 9. If you live in a colder zone, you can also grow it, but you may need to bring it inside during the winter time. This may or may not be an easy task as the plant can easily grow to three or four feet, and can grow even taller if you don’t prune it back in the fall.
You harvest it as green tea by taking off the early spring leaves, drying them in the shade for a couple hours, steaming them on the stovetop like veggies for a couple minutes, then drying in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes.
You harvest oolong tea by drying the leaves in the sun for about an hour, bringing them indoors and letting them completely cool to room temperature, then drying in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes.
You harvest black tea by rolling and crushing the leaves in your hands until they turn dark, then letting them sit on a tray in a cool place for a day, then drying in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Store all of them in an air-tight container. Easy? Yes.
So, how do we grow this amazing Camellia Sinensis plant?
I speak from experience when I say that’s not as easy! But well worth the effort.
You can start with seeds, which are about the size of a pea. They have a hard shell and must be soaked in water for at least 24 hours to soften the shell. If they float, they probably have too much air in the shell to be good germination candidates. If they sink, they are full of seed material and may become good plants. The chance of the sinkers becoming good plants is still pretty small. I’d say one out of every 10 seeds becomes a good plant, so when purchasing seeds, don’t think all of them will germinate. They just won’t.
After you’ve soaked them, lay them on a tray until you see a crack in the shell. This may take a day or two, or it may take up to ten days. Spritz them with water quite a few times a day while you wait. You don’t want them completely drying out.
After they crack, plant them in potting soil about an inch deep and keep them shaded, even covering them with a shade cloth. They won’t start growing for EIGHT to TEN weeks!!! This is where we learn gardening patience! Water them gently and keep your fingers crossed.
If you are super lucky, you will soon see some sprouts. At that point, you can expose them to some light, maybe up to 40-60%. Once they have four leaves, you can transplant them into a larger container and give them full light. Once they are a foot tall (in about two-three months), you can gradually harden them off (put them outside for limited time) over the course of a week until you are finally ready to transplant them outside. I’ve lost track, is it about a year later?
After all this time, they will still take three years to mature to full height.
See? It is a very long process, but making your own tea is soooo worth it!