Reading Between the Lines of ‘New Tea’

With the imminent arrival of ‘fresh’ tea ( new spring green teas from China, Japan, and Korea, and 1st Flush black teas from Assam and Darjeeling, India and eastern Nepal) in the next 3-8 weeks, it’s time for a post about tea dating, or the harvest dates of tea. Some of you may know this information, many of you will not, so it bears repeating for all.

For the moment, let us just say this about ‘fresh’ or ‘new harvest’ tea. Unless a tea merchant is selling 2011 winter tea from the few places in the world that harvest a winter crop or selling very early green teas from Sichuan Province ( Mengding Mt.), Yunnan Province or Hainan Island,  China (which have just begun to appear in the markets in China), it is important to know that there is no new tea coming from China, Japan, Korea or northern India… yet. With a few exceptions, it is still 3-8 weeks too early, depending on the location of the tea gardens.

This is an important distinction, because it is essential for tea enthusiasts to understand what the tea is that they are purchasing this time of year.

Right now, at the end of winter (but before the tea harvest begins) many tea vendors are introducing ‘new’ teas to their store and websites.  But the important thing to realize about that is this – simply because a tea is ‘new’ to a store or website does not mean that it is new harvest tea, and tea enthusiasts should not fall into the trap of thinking that it is.

If the tea is not dated, it may be last year’s tea ( or tea from anytime, really ) that is simply new to that merchant or tea vendor. If there is no harvest date given, then one should inquire before assuming  anything about the time of the pluck.

Which does not mean that last year’s teas should be avoided – that is not the point.  For example, we  here at Tea Trekker have recently added two new fall 2010 Yunnan black teas to our offerings and have dated them as such.

The point is:

  1. one should be an informed consumer and not assume that a new tea being sold right now is fresh, new harvest tea unless that tea is clearly identified as such
  2. do not  stock up heavily on last year’s green, white or yellow tea unless that is what you mean to do. ( Some of these teas will keep quite nicely for several more months or even a year if the weather in that place of production had all of the right elements going for it. But in general, one does not want to purchase large quantities of green, white or yellow tea when the new harvest teas are so close to being available).

Tea vendors who have new harvest spring green teas arrive in their shops right after harvest will have these teas sent by air so that the teas are super-fresh and just a few weeks old. These teas will begin to arrive about the  middle to the end  of April. (  Shipments of tea sent via sea cargo arrive at the historic ‘normal’ time in late July and August).

So plan your tea purchasing accordingly and make sure that you purchase what you think you are purchasing vis a vie the date of harvest.

Over the past year, we here at Tea Trekker ( and a small handful of other vendors of premium tea ) have begun to list the season and year of the harvest on our green, white, yellow, and oolong teas, and some black and Pu-erh teas, too.

While this information is not important for most packaged, branded teas and commercial-grade, run-of-the-mill supermarket teas, it does tell consumers of premium leaf tea some important information. It may be a few years until most serious tea drinkers in the West know to ask about ( or even know to care about ) the seasonal dating of teas. But tea enthusiasts who have learned what these differences mean are better able to make the right choices when purchasing tea.

Next post: harvesting dates

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