I count three groups of variables by which tea can be classified.
Plant. The tea plant is usually divided into the Chinese and Indian varieties, sinensis and assamica. This obscures the fact that tea hybridizes readily, and admits a full spectrum of variations. This includes hybrids with different species in the Camellia genus. To be more specific, growers isolate different cultivars with the precise characteristics they’re looking for. Additionally, they may make clones of an ideal plant.
Growing conditions. Climate is the general pattern of heat, light, and moisture over the course of the year, while weather is its day-to-day variation. Soil means what minerals are available, and the drainage of groundwater. Shade and windbreak play a part, as do disease, insects, and other pests. Don’t forget altitude.
Manufacture. Which leaves are harvested, and when? Are they carefully preserved whole, or chopped into bits? How will the leaves be manipulated, and dried? Will they be allowed to oxidize (or even ferment) before they are dried, and how much?
Ideally, these are the descriptors that distinguish one tea from another, rather than a brand name. With such a wealth of information about any one tea, you can imagine my frustration at the inadequacy of the moniker “Precious Eyebrows.” More later.