Monday, November 2
making black tea from your camellia japonica
Camellia sinensis is the common 'tea' camellia but we dont have any of those, we have japonica and sasanquas. Why cant these be used to make tea? What is it that makes its cousin sinensis the favoured leaf? Lots of searching around the web was not very forthcoming but Mansfields Encyclopedia of Agrcultural and Horticultural Crops offerered the few words i had been wanting to read... camellia japonica can be used as a tea substitute (and tobacco)! We couldn't really undersand why japonicas and sasanquas werent used for tea making and the literature is not full of loud warnings to avoid them due to being harmful nor why sinensis had been the favoured tea choice. So we concluded that sinesis was favoured as a tea crop as it is a more prolific bearer of tips during season and puts its energy into leaves and not pretty flower production. We did find information on tea seed oil or Camelia seed oil made from Japonica. Apparently in China and Japan it has many common uses; frying, salads, dipping sauce, and it has a high smoke point and a sweet flavor. Dried camellia flowers are also be used as a vegetable. Hmmmm, trying to think of a tasty how? Interesting.
Camellia shrubs are everywhere here in the Adelaide hills where the regional climate provides perfect camellia growing conditions; slighty acidic soil and cooler air temperatures. Urban foraging for your own tea leaves is a very viable idea, particularly as they rarely get sprayed for pest and disease control.
A 'spear and two flags' is how you tip prune a camellia for tea; three leaves a pinch. Our twenty rather well 'Sprung' Camellia bushes provided two bowls of prunings, but over time with more tip pruning it will produce more tips more frequently, also catching the spring flush of new growth may have helped as most had opened and grown.
It was a beautiful feeling to finger prune the tips, they were snappy and waxy and fresh between the fingers. After we'd collected what was available we sat and rubbed the leaves in our palms.
They crumbled surprisingly easily despite being so fresh and each batch required about three rubbings to generate a leaf matter the size required.
At this point we lay the crumbled leaf on a tray and removed the stems.
We left the crumbled leaves for 2 days in a dark cool spot to dry; the pantry and could have done three and tossed them around periodically. This proces of air drying essentially oxoidises the leaves and begins a fermentation The leaf bits turned brown and looked rather awful which is what is supposed to happen.
We then oven dried the fermented matter for about 20 minutes in a low oven.
Then we had a cup of tea.
The verdict? A little shallow in flavour but aromatic and it smells just like black tea! Low tanin. Whoopee! We think maybe a little longer to ferment, an extra day and a little more roasting may bring out some more flavour but we will certainly be experimenting with home grown organic japonica tea to keep us in our habit. Depth of flavour may be why sinensis is the tea choice but some further experimentation with ferment and drying times will tell us for sure. Two big bowls of fresh leaves made about a half a cup of dried leaves! Cheaper to use the japonicas than buying enough sinensis to meet our needs and waiting thet 3 year growing period! Im amazed at how cheap bought tea is! and now I understand 'hand rubbed' as a feature of swanky tea.
***morning after update: We reckon this tea is pretty high in caffeine content and its relaxant properties as we felt very chilled but couldnt sleep. A day brew only perhaps.