Grow and Harvest Tea at Home

Green, Black, and Oolong Tea From Your Tea Plant

Green tea
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Grow real tea (botanical name: Camellia sinensis) at home. You don't need a large garden to grow your own tea; a planter on a balcony would work just fine. Understanding the tea plant, its growing requirements, and how to harvest the leaves will allow you to enjoy homegrown tea. The same plant can be used to make green, oolong, or black tea.

Growing a Tea Shrub

The tea shrub is hardy to Zone 8. The United States is broken up into hardiness zones with similar temperatures and weather patterns. Zone 8 includes the Mid-West and the Southern U.S. states. If you don't live in these areas, don't fret. You could try growing Camellia sinensis in a greenhouse, or in a pot that you can bring indoors during cold winters.

The Camellia sinensis plant is a small shrub about 3 to 7 feet (1 to 2 meters) in height, though it will grow taller if you don't prune it. In the fall, your tea shrub will flower with small white blossoms that have a delightful scent. These plants are often grown as ornamentals.

For planting, Camellia sinensis likes well-drained and sandy soil that is on the acidic side. If you are going to grow your tea in a container, add some sphagnum moss to the potting mix. You'll need some patience, too. Your plant should be around 3 years old before you start harvesting leaves. You might be able to get seeds at your local nursery or try online.

Harvesting and Processing Tea Leaves

Growing tea is only half the battle. Once your tea plant is growing well, you'll need to harvest and process your tea leaves. From your plant, you can make black, green, or oolong tea.

Green Tea

To process tea leaves for green tea follow these steps:

  1. Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.
  2. Blot the leaves dry, and let them dry in the shade for a few hours.
  3. Steam the leaves (like you would vegetables) on your stove for about a minute. (For a different flavor, try roasting them in a skillet for 2 minutes instead of steaming.)
  4. Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and dry them in the oven at 250 F for 20 minutes.
  5. Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container

Oolong Tea

To process leaves for oolong tea, do the following:

  1. Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.
  2. Spread them out on a towel under the sun and let them wilt for about 45 minutes. This step is called withering.
  3. Bring your leaves inside and let them sit at room temperature for a few hours.
  4. Make sure to stir the leaves up every hour.
  5. The edges of the leaves will start to turn red as they begin to dry.
  6. Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 250 F for 20 minutes.
  7. Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container.

Black Tea

To process leaves for black tea, do this:

  1. Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.
  2. Roll the leaves between your hands and crush them until the leaves start to darken and turn red.
  3. Spread them out on a tray, and leave them in a cool location for 2 to 3 days. (This is also withering.)
  4. Dry them in the oven at 250 F for about 20 minutes.
  5. Store in an air-tight container.

Variations and Drinking

Once you get the hang of it, try experimenting with different drying times to get different tastes. Mix your teas with jasmine or hibiscus flowers for a lovely summer tea right from your garden. Use your dried tea leaves as you would store-bought leaves. You can purchase tea bags and fill the leaves into the bags or steep them with a tea ball or special tea infuser.