Making tea from your very own garden
Sheryn Clothier never buys tea – instead she uses dried leaves picked from her camellia sinensis hedge
Camellias grow so well in the Waikato our neighbouring town, Putaruru, used to call itself the Camellia Town. What is surprising is that is wasn’t until 1996 that someone started growing tea here commercially – Zealong Tea Estate near Hamilton has 1.2 million Camellia sinensis plants. I only have 10 but it is enough for my needs.
Camellia sinensis is an attractive camellia with a small leaf and tiny white flower. There are thousands of cultivars throughout the world, adding to the variety of the 5 million tonnes of tea produced each year. Mine are of unknown pedigree as I acquired some cuttings from my dad and poked them directly into the back of a garden. About 75% survived my lack of care, and several years later I have an attractive and productive hedge.
November is the first pick of the season. I pick the tips of the top fresh leaves (now I know why it is called PG Tips). It’s a kinda fiddly task but a pleasant one in the first of the summer sun. Green tea is, of course, just that, but the tips are crushed and oxidised to various degrees to produce oolong and black tea. A tour at Zealong made me realise that this process is an art form equal to creating wine, and each variation affects the final tea.
I roll and crush the tips between my hands and leave them spread out on a towel in the sun for an hour or so to wilt. They are then put in a cool dark place to continue oxidising. You can finish this at any time for oolong tea by drying it off in the oven on a low heat, or allow it oxidise fully for black tea. When your tea is dry, it will simply crumble in your hands and then all you need to do is add hot water.
I pick three times a year – November, January and March – and then trim and shape my hedge. Though I am not a hedgey, shapey person, having it at a uniform level makes picking much, much easier. Left undisturbed, Camellia sinensis will grow into an attractive small tree.
Camellia sinensis, like most camellias, is a hardy, easy-to-grow plant that is well suited to New Zealand’s slightly acidic soils. They don’t mind a bit of shade if the midday sun is extremely hot, will tolerate most soils as long as it has decent drainage and will
This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz send down deep roots to seek their own moisture and nutrients. They thrive in the rainfall and humidity of the Waikato.
If you live in a drier area you may want to irrigate them. Feed regularly with compost and they will flourish.