During these cold days, a hot cup of coffee sounds like a blessing. If you are a fan of this steamy beverage, you have probably thought about growing tea in your own garden. In a few simple steps, you can learn how to grow tea and brew herbs you have tended yourself.
The tea plant
While you might have all kinds of herbs in your garden you can brew, we are now talking about the real tea plant, Camellia sinensis. All those fancy tea varieties, like black, green, and oolong, actually originate from this plant. You can recognize it from its evergreen appearance and its glossy leaves. During autumn, the plant blooms, sporting some delicate white flowers.
Step 1 – Choose the right soil
Before starting the planting, make sure the soil you choose is suitable for the plant to thrive. It should be ericaceous and free draining, meaning that you can also plant the seeds in pots. In fact, the plant isn’t too picky when it comes to soil. It can grow anywhere that vegetables can grow. In fact, this plant can be more resistant to droughts than most vegetables.
Also, choose a sheltered spot where the plant can have access to plenty of sunlight. However, make sure it will still have some shade, as too much sunlight might damage it. Watering it shouldn’t be a problem but, if it’s surrounded by more ‘thirsty’ plant varieties, they might not thrive so well.
If you want to plant the tea plant in your garden, you should live in a warmer climate. This way, the tree will be able to survive even during winter. If your climate is a little colder, the only suitable option is pot planting.
Step 2 – Select your tea variety
Before learning how to grow tea, you first have to decide what kind of tea plant you want. The best choice you can make is to stick with the Chinese variety of tea. This means you should pay attention to the labels when buying the seeds.
The Chinese variety is called Camellia sinensis var. sinensis. You can easily mistake it with the Indian variety, Camellia sinensis var. assamica, which is more difficult to grow. If you live in a colder area, you might have more problems with growing the Indian variety, as it can’t really take the cold.
Step 3 – Propagate the seeds
Usually, it takes a lot for seed germination to start, so you can use a small trick to speed up the process. Take the seeds you want to plant and sink them in water for 24 or 48 hours. This way, they can absorb plenty of water before the germination, increasing the chances of a successful process.
After one or two days, remove the seeds from the water and put them in a tray. Place this tray in a sunny place, and maintain their humidity by constantly spraying the plant with water. Once the seeds can cope with the air temperature, cover them with a small layer of soil.
In a few weeks, germination will occur, and the plant will get some small leaves. This is the moment when you can move it into a pot or into the garden. Make sure you keep this soil moist, but don’t overwater it.
Step 4 – Tend the tea plant
In case you have planted the plant in a pot, move it in a bigger one when it reaches around 20 cm. This way, you will allow its roots to spread. Also, drain the pot properly. If this plant is overwatered, its roots may rot. If it’s cold when the plant is still young, you have to be extremely careful with the plant.
During the first two winters, it’s better if the plant stays inside or in a greenhouse. However, once it reaches 1 m in height, it should be sturdy enough to face harsher conditions. This applies to colder areas, as warmer climates are not dangerous for the tea plant.
Step 5 – Increase your tea plantation
Once you’ve learned how to grow tea, you are ready to expand your tea production. If your plant has survived its first winter and managed to thrive, you are ready to harvest the tea and grow new plants. During spring, the plant returns to life, as new sprouts arise.
You can recognize the newly grown buds by their small fresh leaves. Pluck carefully the buds with their leaves, and then place them into a small tray with water. This will allow it to grow small roots. Harvesting holds many advantages both for the new and the old plant.
This method allows a quicker development of new plants, and is healthy for the older ones. Even if you’re not planning to increase your tea plantation, harvesting is still necessary for the trees. By doing it, you let them breathe and get more bushy every year.
Step 6 – Process the leaves to make more tea varieties
In three years, your plants will be mature enough to produce enough leaves. It will contain the right amount to produce just the right amount of tea. However, if you want to harvest the leaves regularly, you will have to wait about five years.
The Camilla sinensis plant can produce black tea, green tea, and oolong tea. Once you choose your preferred variety, you should learn the processing method that comes with it. First, you have to pick up the freshest leaves on each branch, together with their buds. Then, you have to process them differently.
After picking up the leaves, arrange them on a towel and let them dry in a shaded spot for several hours. Once they are dry enough, place them on a stove and steam them for about a minute. Do the same that you would do with vegetables. Make sure you constantly stir them, so that they won’t burn.
If you want a different touch on your green tea, you can choose roasting instead of steaming. Place them in a skillet, and roast them for about two minutes. Either you choose to steam or roast them, you have to dry them again.
Take out a tray, put some baking sheet on it, and arrange the leaves. Place the tray in the oven, set it at 250F, and leave them inside to dry for 20 minutes. Then, your leaves are ready to be brewed. Keep them in a sealed container, so that no air gets to them. When brewing the infusion, heat the water to 167F. Pour it over the tea leaves, and let them sit for three minutes.
After you have picked up the leaves, start rolling them between your palms. As you do this, they will start changing color. You can stop once they start turning dark red. Afterwards, arrange them in a tray and keep them in a cool room for two or three days. Make sure you don’t touch or expose them to heat during this period. The process they would undergo is called withering.
Once the leaves are withered, they are ready to dry. Place them in a tray covered with baking sheet, arrange the leaves on it, and place it in the oven heated to 250F. Dry them for 20 minutes. After you take the leaves out, place them in a sealed container as well. The quality of tea is preserved if you avoid the contact with air.
To prepare the infusion, you have to heat water until it starts boiling. Then, pour it over the leaves, and let them sit for four minutes.
Oolong tea is a rarer tea variety, with a taste placed between green and black tea. After picking up the leaves, spread them on a towel and let them sit in sunlight for 45 minutes. This also represents withering, but it affects the leaves differently. After that, the leaves will also have to sit inside in a cooler place for several hours.
Unlike black tea, you have to stir the leaves once every hour. As they start drying, they will also get the dark red color. However, you don’t have to dry these leaves in the oven. Place them in a pan, and heat them at a maximum of 149F.
Oolong tea has a strikingly different flavor. To preserve it, you have to roll the processed leaves into tiny balls or strips. Also, depending on the taste you want, you can brew the tea two or three times. For each additional brewing, the beverage gets an additional aroma.
Step 7 – Be creative when brewing your tea
Once you have mastered the art of tea, you can start making your own beverages. If you want your infusion more exotic, you can start mixing different kinds of leaves and see what you get. If you want to get a summery vibe, you can add hibiscus or jasmine flowers in your teas. Jasmine goes especially well with green tea.
If you want something to warm you up on a winter’s night, spices are the secret to a delicious tea. You can add something sweeter, like cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, or chives. Even dried fruits can do the trick, spreading a holiday flavor in your home. If you are more daring, you can replace the Christmas spices with pepper and hot spices.
These tips on how to grow tea in your own garden are perfect for all tea aficionados. They are a perfect way to save the money you regularly spent on boxed tea. Moreover, you can make sure your drinks are healthier and perfect to suit your tastes.