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tea  RSS feed

 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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So, every now and then I spot a happy little tea camellia (Camellia sinensis) growing in a garden in the bay area, unmolested, and it gets me to wondering why I never hear of anyone growing tea on a community scale in the US--probably because of the relative cheapness of overseas tea underwritten by cheap oil and cheap human labor in Asia. But we can expect the price of oil to continue to stagger erratically into the stratosphere as supply continues to dwindle--Obama's fool's errand in the Middle Atlantic notwithstanding--so eventually locally produced tea could be more cost-effective than having it shipped from China.

Tea needs moderate winters, adequate moisture, and well-drained soil on the acid side. Russian strains can be fairly cold-hardy. My impression is that it would be well suited for growing in polyculture, since shade-grown tea is considered superior. I expect that conifers would be good companions, because they provide moist, acid soils. Aside from conifers, what other species do you think would make a good guild with tea? Comfrey? Blueberries? Edible mushrooms? Chilean guava (Ugni mollinae)?

Yields from tea can include not just black, green, and white tea from the leaves, but oil from the seeds, which is a pretty high smoke-point cooking oil with a good flavor.
 
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Any thoughts on how it will do in usda zone 7/8?  i'd like to put some plants in this coming year (fall most likely).

I've seen plants listed in mail order sites occasionally.  do you have any sites to recommend with multiple varieties to pick from?

Thanks!
 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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I haven't seen any sites with more than one variety, but you might try Sochi from One Green World. It's one of the supposedly more hardy varieties. I bought mine from Horizon Herbs but I don't know what variety it is.
 
                    
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I know a woman with several varieties of tea growing in the mountains of Humbolt county.  Probably a zone 7/8, part shade, and they do beautifully.  Don't know what varieties though!
 
                                  
Posts: 26
Location: central kansas
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Hadn't thought about growing tea.  That's quite an idea.  Wonder if you could grow it in a big pot and move it into a barn in the winter.  We're right on the border of zone 5 and six.
 
Kay Bee
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Ooh, just came across this place and it looks like they have the Sochi variety.

They are about a 3 hour drive from our place.  Might be less for you, Marina.

http://www.rollingrivernursery.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.browse&category_id=62&Itemid=26
 
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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There is a commercial tea farm owned by Sakuma Brothers near me in Mt.Vernon Wa..Several ac. and we are zone 7.I have one plant thats been alive for 5 yrs.Lost some of the other named cultivars to cold or shade but am going to try 8 sochi this year.Ilex vomitoria is a N.american native related to mate that has cafine as well.I started some seeds but they havnt come up yet.Like tea it prefers the warm humid summers.The tea plant commonly used for oil is a different sp.The oil has the composition of olive oil(monounsaturated)but with a nutral flavor.Ive seen it for sale rarley.
 
                    
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Heh, I've been to that farm, SouthEastFarmer!  Marc and Corrina have a neat place.  They run goats in their orchards for coddling moth control.  Didn't know they had tea though!  Thanks for the link to their website, I hadn't seen it before. 

Unfortunately the way the roads run it's more like a 6 hour drive from our place.....fewer miles, way more twists and turns. 
 
                          
Posts: 211
Location: Northern California
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Wow. I may have to go up there to try to learn more about how tea is grown and processed.
 
                    
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It's right across the river from Sandy Bar Ranch, Kerrick.  I went there one afternoon with Blythe.  STEEPest orchard property I think I've been on.  Goats were a good choice. 
 
steward
Posts: 3425
Location: woodland, washington
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Mt.goat wrote:
There is a commercial tea farm owned by Sakuma Brothers near me in Mt.Vernon Wa.



I was going to mention Sakuma Brothers as well.  their tea has been there for a while, but I think they only recently started production in earnest.

I bought a few Sochi seedlings late last year.  lost a couple over the winter before they were planted, but the rest seem happy, and December was pretty cold around here by local standards (5-ish Fahrenheit).

so it's certainly doable.  I don't know that the knowledge exists right now in this country to make the really top-notch stuff, but with the right foggy mountain and a lifetime of paying attention, I'm pretty sure premium tea is possible, too.
 
                    
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It's kinda all the same plant, with different drying and fermenting processes to get the various flavors, right?
 
tel jetson
steward
Posts: 3425
Location: woodland, washington
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marina phillips wrote:
It's kinda all the same plant, with different drying and fermenting processes to get the various flavors, right?



mostly.  there are some other plants involved for some tea varieties.  a few common examples: genmaicha is made with tea leaves and toasted brown rice and jasmine tea has tea leaves and jasmine flowers.  Earl Gray has bitter orange peel in it.  North African mint tea is generally gunpowder green tea and fresh mint.

and it isn't just about treatment after harvest.  different growing conditions, especially levels of sunlight.  different harvest times.  different parts of the plant.  all these contribute to different styles.  some are aged.

I would put making really good tea firmly in the "when leisure permits" category.  if somebody's passionate about it, more power to them, but a person could probably do more important things with all those mental and physical resources.  making pretty good tea seems like a better idea for the time being.

at any rate, tea certainly ought to be more widely grown and used locally.  judging by the success of small breweries, small cheese producers, etc., I think there would probably be a niche in a lot of places for local tea, and it would definitely benefit the local community.
 
                    
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I have 7 tea shrubs that are about 12 years old. This past November, I was diligent in picking the seed, planted it properly, and have kept it watered. I now have somewhere between 300 and 400 seedlings, and am transplanting them from flats into individual pots. Wish me luck.

Even if the oil ran out and we returned to sailing ships, it would still be cheaper to import tea. Producers in North America need to develop new marketing niches. Organic is good, that is now available from some overseas producers, but is a value added proposition. Local and fair trade is good and could be the basis of one niche.

Other ideas for market niches:
1) Shade grown tea. Usually milder in flavor, but it grows slower than the big fields of nothing but tea. Ideal for permies, as we like to do polyculture and can put the tea plants in partial shade of other good trees.

2) Japanese researchers have shown that storing the freshly picked leaves for 24 hours in a pure nitrogen environment immediately before drying them gives a big increase in the amount of relaxing compounds like GABA.... creating a natural variety of tea that is less stimulating.  It is relatively simple and cheap to separate nitrogen out of air and use it to fill a box with fresh tea leaves.

3) Low aluminum/fluoride tea. Tea is grown in an acidic soil, and this makes aluminum and fluoride more soluble ... those are taken up into the leaves and is released when brewed. Tea will grow perfectly well in a neutral or slightly alkaline soil provided that it gets the minerals it needs (things like iron, zinc, manganese, copper, and molybdenum) ... a foliar spray that contains the right nutrients would keep the tea healthy and happy without loading it with aluminum and fluoride.

4) Natural decaf. Not by CO2 extraction, or using some other chemicals. Start testing different plants to find those that produce less caffeine, multiply those via cuttings or layering, breed them, test again, etc ... It would be nice to have a tea with all the benefits of green tea polyphenols, but less caffeine.
 
                    
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Kerrick wrote:
I expect that conifers would be good companions, because they provide moist, acid soils. Aside from conifers, what other species do you think would make a good guild with tea? Comfrey? Blueberries? Edible mushrooms? Chilean guava (Ugni mollinae)?



I think they would integrate well into oak guilds of the southeast US, provided that the shade is not too dense. My plants have grown under half shade of oaks and choke cherries. Four of them were under a big oak that split in a hurricane and had to be taken down a few years ago. When they were exposed to open conditions, they had a growth spurt.

Bees love the flowers, so it is good for nearby hives. I think they go more for the pollen as a food, rather than nectar for honey. The seeds take a year to develop, so when I am out picking seeds in November, the plants are in full  bloom and usually covered with a buzzing horde. 
 
                              
Posts: 123
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Mt.goat wrote:
There is a commercial tea farm owned by Sakuma Brothers near me in Mt.Vernon Wa..Several ac. and we are zone 7.I have one plant thats been alive for 5 yrs.Lost some of the other named cultivars to cold or shade but am going to try 8 sochi this year.Ilex vomitoria is a N.american native related to mate that has cafine as well.I started some seeds but they havnt come up yet.Like tea it prefers the warm humid summers.The tea plant commonly used for oil is a different sp.The oil has the composition of olive oil(monounsaturated)but with a nutral flavor.Ive seen it for sale rarley.



About Ilex Vomitoria.... I've drank this a couple times over the last couple of months because I want to plant some Yaupon (I. Vomitoria) and wanted to make sure I liked the flavor.  It's awesome!  Tastes a lot like mate.  You can buy I. Vomitoria in any big box home depot type store as it's a very common landscaping plant.  It tolerates all sorts of soil and light conditions.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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tel jetson wrote:Earl Gray has bitter orange peel in it.



Is it bitter orange peel, or bee balm? I know that it's bergamot, either way.
 
Posts: 113
Location: Blue Island, Illinois - Zone 6a - (Lake Effect) - surrounded by zone 5b
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although bee balm is known as wild bergamot, it is not the same bergamot (a bitter orange peel flavor?) found in earl gray tea. Not sure why they both have the name 'bergamot...
 
                      
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stalk_of_fennel wrote:
About Ilex Vomitoria.... I've drank this a couple times over the last couple of months because I want to plant some Yaupon (I. Vomitoria) and wanted to make sure I liked the flavor.  It's awesome!  Tastes a lot like mate.  You can buy I. Vomitoria in any big box home depot type store as it's a very common landscaping plant.  It tolerates all sorts of soil and light conditions.



Here in Texas it;s used as an ornamental and grows well. I've several in my flower beds. I've been tempted to try it. Maybe this would make a good cash crop?
 
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