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. But...it 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!