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.

18 comments:

vegeyum said...

Gorgeous idea! How intriguing, and Adelaide definitely the right place to make this tea. Maybe a new industry? :)

belinda said...

Thanks,

The Melbourne hills also have camelia all over them. I might just have to play with pruning the monsters at the bottom of my block while waiting for my puny little sinensis to end up big enough.

Kind Regards
Belinda

Annuska said...

I love how you have all these ideas and actually DO try them! I have such a long list of things to try...one day I hope. I was thinking that in a bit you could use the studio (for example) to host people who want to learn about 'foraging', eating off your back yard, sustainable living, etc, and make an income out of this, run workshops and so on!

Green Bean said...

Now THAT is cool! Thanks for the blow by blow.

Em said...

thanks Kel! Tea making is on our to-do list so this was great to read; it's always more inspiring to read someone you "know" :)

Kelly said...

vegeyum- its rather imperial! Hmm, food for thought but we'd need to get our consistency up!

belinda- the bloke foraged some sasanqua last night before his meeting and starded drying it. this morning it smells like cloves! Give it a shot.

annuska- its exhausting! lol but fun. Umm, we have talked about it...

greenbean- its hot! welcome, give it a shot.

em- hi, pleasure, its always a bit more 'do-able' isnt it? Let us know how it goes wont you?

LJ said...

Great, I thought in a similar fashion. So many economic plants are chosen only for the farmer, not for a home growing. With fruits you need low set and large size. And then low maintainable. Home growers are handicapped by the lack of guidance to do things their way.

johnboyfromky said...

I tried making tea from the japonica and I had mixed results. I think the potential is there for some interesting tea, just need to figure out the right process, that seems to be key. I am having some of that tea right now. It has a pleasant taste, no bitterness like some Asian teas, a little more body than other teas, dark in color may be due to my process. Someone noted above that the tea keeps you awake, I agree with that statement. But I do not get a caffeine "buzz" as I do from coffee, the tea just makes me feel a bit more alert. My friend brought me the leaves in the Spring from Florida, I "processed" them the next day. My process was rather simple, removed the stems, rolled the leaves and not long thereafter "roasted" them in a skillet, drove off most if not all of the moisture. One test run got moldy, I think because there was too much moisture remaining. I would like to try the process again, allowing the leaves to ferment before drying. I think by letting the leaves ferment, the tea will be more aromatic, more appealing flavors might appear. I believe that is the idea behind fermenting tea to get the oolong variety.

Joan Anne said...

Bright idea! I want to taste this camellia japonica tea, specially when it's super cold.

Thank you for sharing ;)

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cremesodayum said...

Enjoyed the detailed article...have wanted to try this out for years - but everything surrounds the sinensis variety - and was wondering myself - can this be done??

Steph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steph said...

Fascinating! I've linked to this post from (tea) my blog. cheers!

http://stephcupoftea.blogspot.com

M.A.B. said...

Thank you for the informative post. Have you tried, or do you know anyone who has tried similar tests with a Camellia sasanqua? Also, is there a reason not to use the more mature foliage, as well as the new growth?

Melanay said...

Fantastic information, thank you sooo much! I was just about to order a tea plant and, noticing the genus name is the same as my ornamental Camellia, I thought to look it up. Not much info out there. Your blog entry is the most informative. Thank you!

Tom Turk said...

I have a dozen blooming Sasanqua and Japonica here in California that are now about 15 years old. I do not know which varieties are which anymore, but I am anxious to try making this tea. All the thanks goes to you for your guidance.
TT

Walan said...

Thanks for your post. I'm thinking to grow a Japonica here in Germany and I know people have them as flower, but didn't here of it selling as tea.

By the way, I think the Asian do use it as a green tea.

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