The tea plant, a shrub-like evergreen, called Camellia sinensis, is grown in climates that provide a combination of both hot and cool temperatures. In addition to climate, the plant requires at least 50 inches of rainfall a year, and prefers acidic soils. Many high quality tea plants grow at elevations up to 5,000 feet, where the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavor. Only the top one to two inches of the mature plant are plucked for tea. These buds and leaves are called flushes, and a plant will grow a new flush every seven to ten days during the growing season.
Like fine wine, true tea is an agricultural art, the quality, flavor and taste of tea is influenced by its surroundings. Soil, climate, sunshine, temperature, rainfall and altitude all contribute to making up the unique characteristics of each plant and leaf. The assorted varieties of the Camellia sinesis plant suit certain climates and geological regions. The smallest difference in soil quality and exposure to sunlight affect the flavor of the tea. Tea gardens only a slight distance away from one another can yield very different tasting tea. More than 3,000 varietals or subspecies of the tea plant exist in various growing regions, resulting in thousands of teas, each with unique characteristics.