Sometimes, tea reviewers out there are amazed at how big tea leaves can get. Often, this is because they are fairly new to trying premium teas. And they are used to that ground up stuff in teabags and sachets. But tea leaves vary quite a bit in size and can get rather large, as you will soon see.
Factors Affecting Leaf Size
The size of your tea leaves depend on a number of factors. One is the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) varietal. Yunnan, China, and Assam, India, grow predominately the assamica varietal. The leaves get larger (average 12-20cm) and thicker than the sinensis varietal (average 6-9cm). I saw a phenomenal leaf posted on Facebook recently – it’s from Yunnan and so is most likely the assamica varietal, but that is not the only reason for its size.
Of course, var. sinensis leaves can get a bit large, too, such as this Buddha Hand oolong from Fujian Province, China:
Despite the length being close to that var. assamica leaf, this one is more delicate in feel and in the flavors it produces.
Another factor in leaf size of your tea is where on the stem it comes from. It could be a tip leaf “bud” (actually, an unfurled leaf as opposed to an undeveloped flower) set such as this Yunnan tea made from much smaller leaves than the one above and shown here after steeping and unfurling during that process:
Plus there are fine teas like this Fuding Silver Needle (a top-grade white tea) that is all buds:
We’ve all heard of the famous two-leaves-and-a-bud picking standard and seen photos of tippy leaves and buds like these:
But others from further down the stem are shown in photos of someone holding larger leaves in his hands like this:
These larger leaves may not even be full size. When harvesting by hand (machine is another matter entirely), the crews often go out to pick for a particular type of tea and so follow a particular picking standard, as directed by the tea garden managers. Sometimes they just harvest and then the leaves get sorted out later.
Hou Kui is another example of long leaves. These are hand-picked and processed (you can see the pattern where they were pressed):
Tea tree age can be another factor, with very large leaves being seen closer to the tea trunk and the smaller, more tender leaves toward branch ends. Very old trees that were once cultivated but abandoned or that were let grow to their natural height of 20-40 feet or that were never cultivated but grow wild are usually where leaves of this size are found:
So far, I haven’t found a photo of a larger one online, but if you do, please let us know here and on our Facebook page.