Tea has been grown in the UK for hundreds of years. As a British company who loves a good cuppa, we wondered how easy it would be to grow-your-own tea at home.
As it turns out, it’s perfectly possible to grow Camellia Sinensis – the common tea plant – in your own garden. In fact, it thrives in UK conditions. All it needs is a temperate climate, plenty of moisture and acidic soil. Here’s how to create a mini tea plantation in your own backyard.
How to grow tea from seeds
Camellia Sinensis seeds can be bought from garden centres and online seed companies. If you have a greenhouse or a growhouse where you can control the temperature and light levels, this will give your tea plants the best possible head start. Here’s how to plant tea from seeds:
Step 1: Germinate
- Soak seeds in water overnight the night before planting.
- Using acidic soil, plant the seeds into used egg shells, a seed tray or an egg box and leave in a shady spot until they begin to sprout.
- Keep the soil moist, but not wet, using a spray water bottle.
- Once the seeds have sprouted you can move them to a sunny spot, either on a windowsill or in a greenhouse.
- Expect the germination process to take around 6 weeks.
Step 2: Plant
- When the roots have started to develop, carefully transfer your seedlings to a larger pot where they will grow on for the next few years until properly established.
- If using an egg shells, plant the entire shell into the soil. It will feed the plant as it breaks down.
- Use well drained, acidic soil.
- Make sure that the pots have plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.
How to grow tea from a plant
Another way to grow your own tea is to buy a small Camellia Sinensis plant. They can be grown outside during the warmer months, but they’ll need a warmer home for the winter during the first two or three years. This can be in a conservatory, small growhouse or a greenhouse.
When you get your tiny tea plant home, don’t re-pot it straight away. Water it, place in a nice sunny spot and leave for a couple of days. Once it’s had time to acclimatize, prepare a larger container with acidic soil, re-pot your plant and place in a bright spot with light shade.
In the Spring, when you start to harvest the young, most highly-prized leaves, you should feed once a month with a general liquid plant food.
How to prepare your home-grown tea
The young, new-growth, leaves are the ones to harvest for the best tea. In spring and summer you’ll notice a 'flush' of brighter green, young leaves appearing at the top of your plant. Pick the two youngest leaves and buds from each branch for the most flavoursome brew.
At this stage you’ll need to decide whether to make black or green tea. There’s a slightly different process for each, but both are fairly simple.
Preparing leaves to make black tea:
- Bruise the leaves using a pestle and mortar until they begin to loose colour – this gives the tea its black colour.
- Spread the leaves out in a single layer and air dry for a couple of days until they’re nearly dry.
- Place the leaves in an oven at 100 degree C for roughly 30 minutes.
- Once completely dry, place in a airtight jar.
Preparing leaves to make green tea:
- Place the leaves and buds in a colander over a saucepan and steam them for 2-3 minutes. As soon as they change colour run them under cold water to stop them ‘cooking’.
- Roll up the leaves into cigar shapes using your hands or a sushi mat if you have one. This breaks them down and releases some of the flavour.
- Leave to completely dry in an airing cupboard until crispy, or dry them in a warm oven at 100 degree C for 10-12 minutes, turning half way.
- Place in an airtight jar.
How to make the perfect cup of home-grown tea
Once you’ve prepared a few jars of your own tea leaves, it’s time to put the kettle on! Simply grind 10-15 leaves into a coarse grain using a pestle and mortar, place in a strainer and add the hot water. Allow your tea to brew for at least two minutes to allow the full flavour to develop.
There you have it, a simple guide on how to grow and harvest your own tea at home. Have you tried? Let us know over on our Facebook page.
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