Grow tea in your garden to make the perfect cuppa


The perfect cup of tea can be grown in your own garden. Photo: Dreamstime

New Zealand has a good climate for growing tea. Here’s our guide to making the perfect cuppa from garden to table.

Words: Nadene Hall

Camellia sinensis
Adult height: From 1.2m – 1.8m
Description: Evergreen shrub, native to South East Asia, bears white fragrant flowers

The plant that gives us one of the world’s best-loved beverages is a camellia, a small evergreen shrub that doesn’t look all that important. Yet the tea industry is worth billions of dollars worldwide and almost everybody loves a good cuppa after a long day.

The tea camellia doesn’t mind full sun or shade and is pretty adaptable to almost all well-drained soil types, except those that are water-logged. It makes a good filler for shady areas or as a low border plant if kept in trim.

While it doesn’t mind it getting hot, it doesn’t like drying out completely so water well while the plant is actively growing.

You can propogate Camellia sinensis by cutting or seed. Rooting is a slow process with these plants, so treat the cutting with hormone to give it some help. Seeds need to be soaked in warm water for 24 hours before sowing.


Leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Photo: Wikicommons/ Sebastianjude

With our beautiful climate you would think New Zealand could have its own tea industry but a couple of important factors mean growers here would probably never be able to compete with the world’s big tea-producing countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.

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Currently, there is no method of mechanical picking and most foreign tea producers are subsidised by their Governments and can take advantage of cheap labour. Those who have looked into it here have also found it difficult to bring new plant cultivars into the country for commercial purposes.

If you want to have a go with your own plants the taste you’ll end up with will depend on your particular region’s climate, soil type and elevation.

Tender young growth should be picked, with 2-3 leaves recommended. Allow any surface water to dry in the shade for a few hours. You will then need to bruise the leaves to start the fermentation process – this is what gives you the flavour. Roll shoots between your hands until the leaves are dark and crinkled but not broken.

You then ferment the leaves by placing in thin layers on a tray in a shady place – this will take 2-3 days.

Heat the oven to 120°C and bake for 20 minutes. This stops the fermentation process and you have created your tea – store it in an airtight container.

Have you been making tea the correct way? Photo: Dreamstime

Have you been making tea the correct way? Photo: Dreamstime

Drinking a good cup of tea is a favourite pastime for many New Zealanders but there will always be a dispute over how to make the perfect cup of tea. Do you put milk in first or after you’ve poured your tea? Do you heat the pot before making the tea?

1. Experts say to bring out the best flavour in a cup of tea you should start with cold water in the kettle. It retains more oxygen so you get a fuller flavour.
2. The teapot should be pre-heated by filling with hot water from the tap, letting it warm up, then draining it completely.
3. Measure 1tsp of loose tea leaves for every cup you plan to pour. For people who like milk in their tea it is recommended to add an extra teaspoon “for the pot”.
4. For black tea the water should be bought to a full boil then removed as soon as it does. If you boil all the oxygen out of the water, the flavour will be flattened. For green teas, the water should be just starting to bubble – you want the water to be around the 75°C. If you’re not sure, boil the water then add 1 part cold water to 4 parts boiling water to bring it to the right temperature.
5. To get all the flavour you can from your tea leaves, pour a small amount of hot water over the leaves. This releases some of the bitter tannins. Drain immediately.
6. Fill the pot with water and leave a black tea to brew for 4-5 minutes, a green tea needs around 3 minutes. Overbrewed tea will taste bitter. If you are using tea bags you only need to leave the tea for 30 seconds or so, as the leaves are cut smaller and so impart their flavour much more quickly.
7. Quality tea leaves can be used up to five times before losing their flavour.

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