Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze, Trudy Imp. S.-Peterburgsk. Bot. Sada 10: 195 (1887)

Species name meaning 'from China'.

Camellia arborescens Hung T. Chang & F.L. Yu
Camellia bohea (L.) Sweet
Camellia chinensis (Sims) Kuntze
Camellia sinensis forma macrophylla (Siebold ex Miq.) Kitam.
Camellia sinensis forma parvifolia (Miq.) Sealy
Camellia sinensis forma rosea (Makino) Kitam.
Camellia sinensis var. sinensis
Camellia thea Link [Illegitimate]
Camellia theifera var. macrophylla (Siebold ex Miq.) Matsum.
Camellia viridis Sweet
Thea bohea L.
Thea bohea var. stricta Aiton
Thea cantoniensis Lour.
Thea chinensis Sims
Thea cochinchinensis Lour.
Thea grandifolia Salisb.
Thea latifolia Lodd. ex Sweet
Thea longifolia Nois. ex Steud.
Thea olearia Lour. ex Gomes
Thea oleosa Lour.
Thea parvifolia Salisb.
Thea sinensis L.
Thea sinensis var. macrophylla Siebold
Thea sinensis var. parvifolia Miq.
Thea stricta Hayne
Thea viridis L.
Theaphylla anamensis Raf.
Theaphylla cantonensis (Lour.) Raf.
Theaphylla laxa Raf.
Theaphylla oleifera Raf.
Theaphylla viridis Raf.

Shrubs or trees, 1-5(-9) m tall. Young branches grayish yellow, glabrous; current year branchlets purplish red, white pubescent; terminal buds silvery gray sericeous. Petiole 4-7 mm, pubescent, glabrescent; leaf blade elliptic, oblong-elliptic, or oblong, 5-14 x 2-7.5 cm, leathery, abaxially pale green and glabrous or pubescent, adaxially dark green, shiny, and glabrous, midvein +/- raised on both surfaces, secondary veins 7-9 on each side of midvein and +/- raised on both surfaces, reticulate veins visible on both surfaces, base cuneate to broadly cuneate, margin serrate to serrulate, apex bluntly acute to acuminate and with an obtuse tip. Flowers axillary, solitary or to 3 in a cluster, 2.5-3.5 cm in diam. Pedicel 5-10 mm, recurved, pubescent or glabrous, thickened toward apex; bracteoles 2, caducous, ovate, ca. 2 mm. Sepals 5, persistent, broadly ovate to suborbicular, 3-5 mm, outside glabrous or white pubescent, inside white sericeous, margin ciliolate. Petals 6-8, white; outer 1-3 petals sepaloid; inner petals obovate to broadly obovate, 1.5-2 x 1.2-2 cm, basally connate, apex rounded. Stamens numerous, 0.8-1.3 cm, glabrous; outer filament whorl basally connate for ca. 2 mm. Ovary globose, densely white pubescent, tomentose, or subglabrous, 3-loculed; style ca. 1 cm, glabrous or base pubescent, apically 3-lobed. Capsule oblate, 2-coccal, or rarely globose, 1-1.5 x 1.5-3 cm, 1- or 2-loculed with 1 seed per locule; pericarp ca. 1 mm thick. Seeds brown subglobose, 1-1.4 cm in diam. [from Flora of China]

The natural habitat of Camellia sinensis is the lower montane evergreen broad-leaved forest, thickets; 100-2200 m.

From India and southern China, S Japan, S Korea, Taiwan and Hainan into Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma. The primary centre of origin is presumed to be near the source of the Irrawadi (Ayeyawadi) river in northern Burma (Myanmar). Currently tea is cultivated around the world in suitable (sub-tropical) climates.

Tea is made from the vegetative buds and young leaves. There is a long history of the use and cultivation of tea in China. Tea is usually distinguished by the Chinese people as small leaf tea with a more northern distribution and large leaf tea with a more southern distribution. However, the other varieties of tea and even some other species of Camellia are locally used as tea. The distinction between green tea and black tea concerns the processing of the leaves, i.e., whether they are just wilted before drying (green tea) or wilted and then fermented before drying (black tea). Kukicha (twig tea) is also harvested from Camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves. Early human interest in the stimulating properties of tea may have been instrumental in its wider dispersal in Asia. The tea plant was already known to the Chinese peoples more than 4000 years ago. Written records dating from the 5th Century AD confirm its widespread cultivation and general use as a refreshing beverage in several Chinese provinces. Tea cultivation in Japan was started in the 9th Century with seed introduced from China. Tea became an important export commodity for China, first through the Mongols by old overland trading routes in central Asia to Turkey and Russia (mainly as brick tea), and then from the early years of the 17th Century also to Europe by sea, through the Dutch and English East India Companies (green, and later black tea). For more than 300 years all the tea drunk in the Western world came from China (100 000 t in 1850), but this monopoly on the international tea market gradually came to an end with the development of tea plantations in India (1840), Sri Lanka (1870) and Indonesia (1880). By 1925 very little of the 300 000 t of tea imported into Europe came from China. Tea exports from China were resumed in quantity in the 1960s. The tea grown in China and Japan is all Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ('China tea'), which has smaller leaves and more cold tolerance but grows less vigorously than Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Mast.) Kitamura ('Assam tea') discovered in the forests of north-eastern India in 1823. Assam tea and subsequently hybrids between the two varieties ('Indian hybrid tea') became the basis for the tea industries of South, South-East and West Asia, as well as for those established in Africa and South America. In South-East Asia, tea cultivation is most important in Indonesia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Thailand.

Local names
Burma (Myanmar): leppet.
Cambodia: tae.
China: Cha.
English: Tea.
Indonesia and Malaysia: teh.
Laos: s'a:, hmiengx.
Philippines: tsa (Tagalog).
Thailand: cha (central), miang (northern).
Vietnam: ch[ef], tr[af].