Before I came to America, I lived in Uji City, southern Kyoto Prefecture. Uji is famous for its fine tea production. On my way to and from school I could see undulating tea bushes stretch over the hillsides. The smell of fresh tea drifted from the tea shops alongside of Byodo-in Temple Street.
Japanese tea became ever more popular with the vast development of Japanese Sushi restaurants in America. People drink Japanese tea as a health drink because it contains catechin, a natural antioxidant. There is a tea plantation in Charleston, South Carolina where one can observe tea production. I visited four years ago and learned that black tea, Japanese tea and Oolong tea are all produced from the same tea plant, but the difference between the three comes from their oxidation process (or lack thereof, in the case of green tea).
I have seen tea bushes in Japan and South Carolina, but I never saw tea flowers until recently (pictured here). A Morikami education staff member purchased a tea plant from a tea-themed exhibition at the Donna Klein Jewish Academy. For 14 years, we have run a joint program with the Academy to teach fourth graders about Japanese culture. As you could guess, it is too hot in South Florida to grow tea plants. So, our staff member kept her tea plant in a indoor pot after the exhibition. One day, I found the small white and yellow stamens open. We all gazed at it curiously; the next day, a second flower emerged.
I had never seen tea plant flowers because Japanese tea farmers picked them, believing the flowers take nutrients away from the rest of the plant. In Japan, tea is not made from these flowers. However, I read that the Chinese have used tea flowers since ancient times. There is Chrysanthemum tea, Jasmine tea, and Rose tea; therefore, tea flower tea must be drinkable, right?
If you have ever tasted a tea flower drink, let me know. I am curious about its taste.
Director of Education