Tea plants originated from the Himalayas and China, but today over 45 countries grow tea, including the United States. Tea is important to the world economy and is estimated to be worth in excess of $5 billion dollars, according to the University of Florida. Tea plants grow best in warm climate and prefer an ambient temperature between 65 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes the State of Florida a suitable place to grow tea.
Tea plants grow best in high-altitude tropical climates or low-lying areas in subtropical climates. If the air temperature drops below 55 F or exceeds 95 F, the tea plants cease to grow. They require plenty of warm sunshine and rain, but the soil must be well drained, otherwise the tea roots can rot. Florida's climate, particularly to the north, has the ideal temperature, sunlight and rainfall to ensure certain types of tea plants thrive, although high winds can affect leaf growth.
About Tea Plants
A tea plant is evergreen, so it doesn't lose its leaves during winter months. During the growing season, the plant produces medium-size flowers; pollination takes place because insects are attracted to the flowers. Tea plants can grow more than 6 feet tall but produce the best tea, if they are pruned back to less than 4 feet, once they reach 5 to 6 feet. A small tea plant can produce about a 1/2 lb of tea.
China tea (Camellia sinensis var), is one of two main varieties grown in Florida. The China tea plant is a small and produces dark green serrated leaves. The leaves can be used to make three types of tea: green tea, oolong tea and black tea. Green tea, as the name suggests, remains green once processed and dried. Oolong tea involves using both the leaves and part of the tea plant's stems. Black tea, probably the most common, is made only using the upper leaves and the buds. Once the leaves are semi-dried they are rolled and cut into small pieces. They are then dried further, until they resemble the familiar dry tea leaf you buy in a store.
Assam Tea (C. sinensis var. assamica), is the second type of tea grown in Florida. Assam tea has a distinct perfumed aroma. The plant is larger and grows taller than a China tea plant. The leaves are also larger and not quite as serrated. The Assam tea plant's leaves are not suitable for making green tea, because they have a bitter taste. However, they are used to produce oolong and black tea. The method used to make oolong and black tea from an Assam tea plant is typically through drying and fermentation.