Tea is from young leaves of an evergreen small tree, native to the higher lands of Asia's S.E. monsoon region. In 1752, Linnaeus described the tea tree as a single species, Thea sinensis. Later, however, he recognized two species, Thea Bohea and Thea viridis, as cultivated in China, and it was long thought that these were the origin of black and green tea respectively. Most botanists now agree that there is only one species and that the various forms are varieties of the Tea Sinensis.
When left to its natural habit of growth and not subjected to the repeated pruning necessary for the production of a size and shape convenient for plucking, the tea plant may attain the dimensions of a tree, 20 or 30 feet in height. Its leaves are elliptical-oblong or pointed, toothed along the margin except at the base, smooth on both sides, green, shining, and supported on short stalks. Oil glands present in the substance of the leaf contain an essential or volatile oil. The flowers, resembling those of the mock orange, are slightly fragrant, white or cream-colored, and appear solitary or in clusters of two or three in the axils of the leaves. The fruit is a 3-celled capsule, usually with one large spherical seed in each rounded compartment.
The tea plant thrives best in humid tropical or subtropical regions with high temperatures, a long growing season, and a heavy, well-distributed rainfall to ensure a continuous, rapid growth of new and tender shoots. It favors rocky, undulating tracts where water flows freely, yet without washing away the light, friable soil.