Almost five thousand years ago, legend has it, some leaves from a native shrub, Camellia sinensis drifted into the Chinese Emperor’s kettle of boiling water. The emperor savoured the fragrance and delicate flavor of the infusion with delight. Confidently believing it must possess medicinal qualities, the emperor called this happy discovery tea and made it an essential part of every day.
Since the emperor’s discovery so long ago, these days it would not be considered revolutionary to flirt with the original recipe. The Chinese have improved fine green tea with the addition of jasmine flowers, and the Moroccans with fresh tips of spearmint. Some tea-drinkers love to add a hint of ginger or orange zest to their favourite brew. For me, there is lemon verbena, sage, peppermint, rosemary and thyme ... gentle companions that wait in my herb garden, ready to blend delicately with my green tea and making the custom of taking tea an even more pleasurable and uplifting experience.
The Camellia sinensis is an attractive plant with shiny evergreen leaves and sweetly scented white flowers. Although a tall grower in warm, tropical climates, in temperate zoned gardens this real tea bush grows well as a container plant, in hedges, or as part of a border. I like to keep mine neatly pruned at shoulder height by giving it a slight trim each Spring. To enjoy a cup of the Emperor’s own brew, I have no hesitation in plucking a couple of tender leaves from top or side shoots at any time of the year and infusing the leaves in a cup of hot water for five minutes.