How to Grow, Harvest, and Make Tea at Home

Tea can be grown and made in many places including parts of the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The main requirement is that minimum temperatures during the winter do not go under 15° Fahrenheit (-9° Celsius). The evergreen tea trees (Camellia sinensis) like, well-drained, sandy, moist soil, humid air and a relatively warm climate (warm summers and cool winters).

Planting Tea Trees From Seed

Workers Harvesting Tea

Tea trees or bushes can be grown in pots or directly in the ground. In cooler climates the pots can be kept out of doors in the summer and brought inside during the winter. Tea seeds can be obtained via a few select seed catalogues. The recommended procedure is to submerge them in water for twenty-four hours. There will be both sinkers and floaters. The sinkers usually result in healthier plants. The floaters may also later germinate, but often result in inferior plants. Spread the seeds on a tarp or in a flat in the sun, keeping them moist by frequently misting them with water. The ones showing a crack in the seed coat are the ones ready for planting.1

Plant the seeds about one inch below the surface, with the eye of the seed pointing to the side (not to the top or bottom). The seed containers should be kept in the shade: moist, but not soaking wet. When three to four leaves appear, the roots should be sufficiently strong to allow a transplant directly into the soil or into larger containers. The base of the stem should be slightly higher than the surrounding ground. Well-decomposed compost can be added at planting time. Tea trees should be spaced three to four feet apart for maximum productivity. Try to pick a site not too exposed to winds and morning sun.

Tea Tree Care

As starting tea trees from seed can be a chancy process, it is often better to acquire plants that have already been started. However, nurseries working with tea plants are relatively rare. Cloned plants then will probably have to be mail ordered, especially in cooler climes. After the initial composting, the tea tree will need very little if any feeding. They like acidic soil, so if any fertilizer is applied it should be high in acid.

Pruning is a good idea because the plants can range from two up to twenty meters in height. On a taller plant it will be more difficult to harvest the leaves and buds for making tea. Long or erratic stems can be shorn using pruning shears. Pruning is best in early spring.

How to Harvest Tea Leaves

Plants should be about three years old before leaves can begin to be harvested. The youngest tea leaves make the best tea, so these are the ones to pluck. This will normally be the last three leaves plus the bud. The leaves should be set to dry for about two hours out of the sun, and then be steamed or pan heated to stop oxidation of the leaves. In this process keep the tea leaves on a fairly high heat ( 500° Fahrenheit (260° Celsius)) for about 15 minutes, stir or shake them continuously to prevent burning or scorching. The leaves then can be dried, either in a dehydrator, or in an oven. When they have thoroughly dried, place them in an air-tight container and put in a cool dry place.2

Retrieve them when ready for use.

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  1. University of Hawaii
  2. Gomestic on How to Harvest Tea

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