Such a simple thing — a leaf. And the tea leaf is as simple as any that graces twig or branch. While so many relish the wondrous brews this leaf can produce, few take time to give that tea leaf a really close look.
|From “Anatomy of a Tea Leaf” by J.L. Athey,
posted March 25, 2009 on Simplici~Tea
Start with the plant: Camellia Sinensis. There are two main varietals (the Chinese and the Assam) and hundreds of subvarietals. The plant is in the evergreen category and, unless pruned, can reach as much as 30 feet in height. The leaves are oval shaped, with about 10-11 leaves on average alternating along a 12-inch-long branch. The leaf sizes can vary from tiny to several inches long. When first budding, they are light yellowy green and in a tight, plump “bud” that is actually two outer leaves and one inner leaf. As they grow, the buds open, develop a leathery, smooth texture, and darken to a deeper green. Each leaf has four lobes that contain seeds which are dormant until exposed to the right growing conditions. The plants also put forth blooms, being part of the Camellia family, and those flowers are often included with the leaves in commercial tea.
Chemically speaking, a tea leaf is very complex, with around 2,000 compounds in it. These undergo changes during processing of the leaves. Oxidation is the key factor.
From a distance, highly cultivated fields of tea bushes look like a veritable sea of green as shown in this photo:
|One of those tea tourism photos showing an idyllic tea garden.|
Up close, tea leaves have a real beauty to them and are especially fine with the light shining through as shown here:
Once processed, these leaves range in shape from needles, pellets, nuggets, twists, curls, powders, dust/fannings, broken leaf pieces, and more. Some are even “sewn” together into balls that bloom while steeping.
Yes, your tea leaves deserve a closer look to be fully appreciated.