Most people have never tasted fresh tea, within days to weeks of harvest and processing. The flavors are light and never bitter. The aroma of the infusing tea leaves transports you to the garden in a way no store-bought tea ever can (especially if you brew your tea unfiltered directly in the cup). Lastly, although I've never sent out my teas for testing, it seems likely that fresh tea will have more nutrients and anti-oxidants. In a way, it is not unlike the difference between a garden-fresh tomato and a supermarket, mass produced fruit. Garden-fresh wins ever time.
It's creative and fun
In the garden, variation in tea naturally come from three sources: soil, climate and processing. Some of the best flavors come from the early growth in the cooler temperatures of spring ("first flush"). Like the weather, the inherent characteristics of "terroir" are largely out of your control. Minor differences in processing, however, can make a huge difference in aroma and flavor. If you like to experiment, like me, this is especially fun. I also like to make my own blends depending on what else is growing or blooming in the garden.
Evergreen leaves and pretty flowers
Mature tea plants can make a lovely hedge or foundation planting. For small-scale farming, tea is also well suited as an crop grown on the edge of fields and hills where tractors are impractical. Just like some ornamental Camellias, tea plants flower in the fall with small (1-2 inch) white blossoms with prominent yellow anthers. For farmers and bee keepers, these may provide a key source of pollen for fall foraging. In October, after all the picking is over, our gardens are literally humming with bees and other pollinators.
Christine Parks, owner and operator of Camellia Forest Tea Gardens, enjoys teaching about tea and the creative process of taking tea from garden to cup.