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Preparing, picking and looking after your Tea Plant

Lemon Verbena Tea

How to look after your tea plant

The tea plant Camellia sinensis once established will survive most British winters however for the first 2 or 3 years it would be wise to either bring it indoors or protect it during prolonged or sharp frosts. Any sort of covering can be used to do this but horticultural fleece is available specifically for this purpose. The plant will grow well in full sun or light shade so most gardens will have a place that suits them.

If you buy more than one tea plant, then it’s best to put them around 3 feet apart. Until they grow together there are plenty of perennials that if planted between them will show off well against the Camellia’s dark green evergreen leaves.

Like most Camellias, the tea plant thrives best in well drained neutral to acidic soils. If your soil is on the alkaline side then it may be easier to grow your tea plant in a pot in ericaceous compost. It will do perfectly well grown in this way.In the Autumn, your tea plant will flower with creamy white flowers with a yellow centre and give off a delightful scent.

Your plant can grow up to 3m (10 feet) high but it’s best to prune it back to 3 to 4 feet every few years to keep it bushy and producing fresh leaves at an ‘easy to pick’ height. Looked after, it should carry on producing tea for 50 to 100 years…..wild tea plants have been found up to 1700 years old so you could be providing free tea for your heirs for generations to come!

How to pick your tea

You will be able to pick a few leaves in the first year, so that you can try making your very own tea. It’s best however to limit yourself initially so that your tea plant will put on growth and become a bigger plant with more fresh leaves next year and the years after.Your plant will be dormant during the winter months, but in spring it will burst into life and you can start picking the freshest young leaves. Traditionally, the uppermost leaves two and leaf bud on each stem are picked although you may want to try with some of the older leaves or even stems and see how the flavour varies.

How to prepare your tea

This is where the fun really starts as you can try different methods of preparing the tea leaves and see which method gives you the flavour you like best.

Fresh tea leaves contain enzymes which will start oxidation in the leaves. This process changes the colour and flavour of the tea. The amount of oxidation is highly important in the formation of many taste and aroma compounds, which give a tea its liquor colour, strength, and briskness. Heating the leaves kills these enzymes and stops the oxidation process, whilst crushing or cutting the leaves accelerates oxidation. The amount of ‘bruising’ of the leaves and the timing of the heating therefore determines the type of tea, its colour and flavour.

The three most commonly drunk forms of tea are green, oolong and black. Black tea is still by far the most popular in the UK although Green tea continues to grow rapidly in popularity partly due to its reported health benefits but also of course because of its flavour! The leaves of the tea plant are rich in catechin polyphenols which are very powerful anti oxidants. There are many research papers about the link between these compounds and their reputed health benefits, particularly in the field of cancer prevention.Bruising the leaves will remove these compounds but will also generates new compounds which give black tea the flavour most of us have grown to love.

All three teas are easily made from your tea plant by following the instructions below:

  • Green tea has only 5-10% the caffeine in coffee per cup and contains high levels of antioxidants.
  • To prepare the leaves to make green tea:
  • Pluck the leaves and pat them dry
  • Leave them in a shady place to dry further for around 3 hours.
  • Spread them on a baking tray and dry them in a pre-heated oven at 120°c for 20 minutes
  • Either store them in an airtight box or use them straight away to make your first cup of home grown green tea!
  • (for a slightly different flavour you can steam the leaves for a minute before putting them in the oven or heat them in a wok for 2 minutes instead.)

Oolong tea also known as blue-green tea has around 10-15% of the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. It can have great depth of flavour and complexity and is sometimes called “the connoisseur’s tea” for this reason.

To prepare the leaves to make Oolong tea:

  • Pluck the leaves and pat them dry
  • Spread them out on a towel in the heat of the sun to dry for about 45 minutes
  • Bring them inside to dry for a further 4 hours at room temperature, mixing them a few times during that time. (you will see the edges of the leaves start to turn red as they dry and oxidise)
  • Spread them on a baking tray and dry them in a pre-heated oven at 120°c for 20 minutes
  • Either store them in an airtight box or use them straight away to make your first cup of home grown oolong tea!

Black tea has about 20% of the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. It is still by far the most popular tea drunk in the UK.

  • Pluck the leaves and pat them dry
  • Roll the leaves between your hands or with a rolling pin until the leaves start to darken and turn red
  • Leave them at room temperature for 2-3 days. (you can experiment with the amount of bruising and length of time you leave them to dry to find your own personal perfect cup of tea)
  • Spread them on a baking tray and dry them in a pre-heated oven at 120ºc for 20 minutes
  • Either store them in an airtight box or use them straight away to make your first cup of home grown black tea!

How to look after your moroccan mint plants

These mint tea plants are extremely tolerant of most conditions. The like it best in part shade but will also grow in full sun or shade. They will thrive in a border but can also be grown well in pots or containers. If you plant straight into your garden be aware that once established, like other mints, they can grow very vigorously so you may want to contain them. If you have the space then you will soon be able to drink fresh mint tea every day during the growing season. You can also dry or freeze leaves so that you can drink your own mint tea all year round.

How to prepare your mint tea:

There are many different ways to prepare mint tea. Some include green or oolong tea; some add other plant leaves such as lemon verbena. Traditional Moroccan mint tea includes a lot of sugar whilst this recipe includes a smaller amount but includes green tea. A wonderfully refreshing drink can of course be made with no sugar at all!

  • Warm the pot and then add three teaspoons of green tea , 2 tablespoons of sugar and 4 cups of boiled water that has been allowed to cool a little (if the water is too hot then the drink can develop a slightly bitter edge to it)
  • Let the tea brew for three minutes.
  • Fill one glass with the tea, and then pour it back in the pot.
  • Repeat.
  • This helps to dissolve and distribute the sugar.
  • Pour the tea.
  • Garnish with the remaining sprigs of mint and enjoy your very own fresh Moroccan mint tea!

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