It comes as a surprise to many people that all tea comes from the same type of plant. The type of plant that produces tea is called Camellia sinensi. This plant is native to south and south-eastern Asia.

Although this is the only type of plant that produces tea, there are other beverages that are sometime called “tea.” Infusions made from herbs or flowers are sometimes called “herb teas” or “tisanes” but since they are not from the Camellia sinensi plant they are not really tea.

If there is only one type of plant that produces tea, why are there so many types of tea?

The many types of tea arise from the various methods of processing tea once it is harvested. The three basic types of tea – green tea, oolong, and black tea – are all from Camellia sinensi but have been oxidized for different periods of time.

Green tea is un-oxidized; oolong tea is partially oxidized, and black is fully oxidized. Oxidation is sometimes referred to as “fermentation” – a misnomer as the process has nothing to do with alcohol production.

The type of plant that produces tea - Camellia sinensi – is an evergreen shrub or small tree. Cultivated tea plants are usually trimmed to waist height so that the leaves can be easily harvested, but wild tree plants can grow into huge trees up to 30 meters in height.

The type of plant that produces tea also produces useful seeds that can be pressed to extract tea oil. Tea oil from tea seeds can be used for cooking and seasoning. Tea oil is not the same as tea tree oil which is an essential oil produced from the leaves of a plant native to Australia.

Varieties of Camellia sinensi

Although there is just one species of plant that produces tea, there are several different varieties of that species. They produce tea of distinct flavors and qualities, and are cultivated to produce particular types of tea.

The three most common varieties of Camellia sinensi are:

  • Assam variety
  • China variety
  • Cambodian variety


The Assam variety is a type of plant that produces tea which has a malty or earthy flavor. All Assam tea and most Ceylon tea is from this variety.

The China variety was the first type of plant to produce tea more than 3000 years ago. It produces some of the most popular tea in the world.

The Cambodian variety is a hybrid of the Assam variety and China variety, and takes its flavor and quality from both.