Friday, January 1, 2010

Other Camellias for Tea

The Tea Plant, Camellia sinensis, pictured on the right, is a member of a large genus, Camellia. As with the taxonomy of most species, there are different ideas about how many distinct species there are; the American Camellia Society's page on Camellia Species says that different authorities estimate the number as between 80 and 280...which is a lot.

Few camellias are used for tea other than Camellia sinensis. I found a few sources, including Monrovia's page on Yuletide camellia, that said that the Yuletide camellia, also known as the Christmas Camellia, Camellia sasanqua, is sometimes used to make tea in Japan. Wikipedia also includes this claim, but without giving a source or reference. The same plant is also used to make "tea seed oil". Oil (used for cooking) is also made from Camellia oleifera, and a number of other camellias.

So what about making tea from other camellias?

I am an inherently curious person...I always think of new possibilities, and I admit I am insanely curious about this one. What would it taste like? Granted, it probably wouldn't taste great right off the bad, since the tea plant has been cultivated for hundreds if not thousands of years to yield the beverage we drink today. just seems too obvious a possibility to pass up.

Has anyone done this? Does anyone know anything about this sort of thing?

I'm tempted to try making some tea myself, from Camellias growing here in Delaware...

I guess another philosophical question...would it be tea, or would it be "herbal tea"?

Update: Nigel Melican (teacraftecm on twitter) has informed me that C. irrawadiensis & taliensis, also caffeine-free, make weak "non-commercial liquors". Now I at least want to look into these other species!


  1. This is fascinating topic. I'm personally against tea tyranny and the statement that "tea" must be made from Camil1ia Sinensis and support the argument that the resulting liquid of leaves (or plant material) brewed in hot water constitutes tea.

    This, of course, has earned me the scorn of several purists among the tea loving set. Though even if your concoction should be classified as 'herbal tea' it qualifies as a tea-type beverage.

    Besides, like you, I think it would be interesting to see what kind of flavor profiles and variations you could get from the different Camillia species....though I hope they aren't poisonous...


  2. Thanks for the reply!

    I know what you mean about the "tea tyranny"...I love tea, but I also think experimentation and openness is a beautiful thing. The processing of tea, brewing, and the end result is similar across many different plants...and also, I often find "pure teas" that mimic the aroma of other plants, just as I find "herbal teas" that share certain qualities with pure Camellia sinensis tea.

    I've tried to make as broad as possible, including all herbal teas, Rooibos, Honeybush, Yerba Mate, and lots more...basically anything that's prepared and brewed like tea. I break things up into ones made of one kind of plant, vs. blends, and I make common blends (like green tea + mint, or Earl Grey) a category of their own.

    I think the Camellias that are already used as food sources (or the Christmas Camellia which supposedly is also used for tea) would be a good place to start...

    I really like your website, by the way, I just created an account there and added a link to it on's tea resources page.