Tea Harvesting Timeline

Seasonality in tea is important. Many tea enthusiasts are beginning to understand that some teas are plucked in only one season of the year, while other teas may be plucked over the course of two or three seasons.  In general, some teas are best when plucked and manufactured in the spring, others in the summer, still others in the fall, and so on.  Some teas have a main spring crop and a secondary crop in the late summer or fall. Knowing the season that a tea was plucked can reveal important information about what to expect in the flavor and aroma of that tea.

All teas, even those manufactured in more than one season, have a time of the year when they are at their tastiest best.  For example, for many Chinese tea enthusiasts, green teas plucked early in the spring ( premium teas which are harvested only once a year ) have flavor and aroma that is superior to that of green teas plucked during the summer months (standard teas).  Japanese sencha, too, manufactured from leaf  plucked in early May will have a sweetness and a delicacy that is lacking in sencha plucked and manufactured during the summer.  While seasonal variations in tea will show different flavor and aroma qualities, tea drinkers often have personal preferences of tea from one season over another.

Spring plucked tea implies ‘freshness’ and freshness is important with green, yellow, and white teas, and some oolongs. ( The notion of ‘fresh’ tea or ‘young’ tea does not apply to all classes of tea. Some Chinese oolongs are aged to enhanced flavor, and other teas ( like matcha, for example ) are best when ‘mellowed’ for several months before drinking. Sheng Pu-erh tea can be drunk young, but is traditionally stored for years to develop rich, deep flavors. Many black teas will hold well for several years and a bit of aging can soften their astringent edges). So it pays to know when a tea was harvested as a gauge of its freshness.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the spring tea harvest begins at different times in different countries and regions of each country. In the locations where tea has a dormant period, budbreak ( the re-awakening of the tea bushes after winter hibernation ) is triggered by seasonal weather changes.

Following is a timeline of tea harvesting dates ( for the first 6 months of the year ) in the tea producing countries of China, India, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka and Taiwan based on a normal weather cycle. Of course, these dates are always subject to the whims of nature and the seasonal/unseasonal weather patterns and conditions that affect all farms and agricultural crops. Cold weather will delay plucking, and unseasonably warm weather can speed up leaf growth and the pace of plucking and manufacture by as much as a week or two.

 

 Tea Harvesting Timeline

  • OCTOBER/NOVEMBER

Fujian Province: October production of Tieguanyin and local Se Zhong varietals

Guangdong Province: November (winter ) production of dan congs

Taiwan: November (winter ) production of high mountain gao shan

  • JANUARY

India: frost teas ( black  tea ) from the Nilgiri region of southern India are  manufactured from December thru March.

Sri Lanka: West Highlands quality season in the Dimbula region is January thru March.

  • FEBRUARY

China: production of green and black tea ( dian hong ) begins in some regions of Yunnan Province

Sri Lanka: The quality season for the Southern Coast districts is February, and in the Central Highland districts of Nuwara Eliya and Kandy it is February and March.

  • MARCH

China: the arrival of early spring weather in mid-late March begins the plucking season for some premium green and yellow teas. In Sichuan Province, Mengding Mt. Huang Ya and Zhu Ye Qing can be plucked beginning in mid-March. In eastern China’s Fujian Province, production of bud-plucked Yin Zhen white tea is from mid-March to the end of March. The earliest plucks of Bi Lo Chun and Longjing occur from mid to end of March in eastern China, and the leafy and bud green teas from Yunnan Province start to appear.

India: the Darjeeling and Assam regions in the north begin their first seasonal plucking ( 1st flush ) of black teas in early March.

Nepal: Eastern Nepal begins to harvest its 1st flush black tea.

Taiwan: early spring semiball-rolled oolong production begins  in central Taiwan.

  • APRIL

China: April is the busiest time in eastern China for premium green teas from Anhui Province ( Huang Shan Mao Feng, Lu An Guapian, Tai Ping Hou Kui, etc ); Jiangxi Province ( Lu Shan, Ming Mei ), Sichuan Province ( Gan Lu )  and Zhejiang Province ( Longjing,  Long Ding, etc. ).  The 1st pluck of Fenghuang Dan Congs are from early-to-mid April. Certain black teas are produced in mid-April: Ying de#9, Bai Lin Gong Fu, Yixing Congou, Panyang Congou ( Golden Monkey ). The leaf  and bud materials for Pu-erh are plucked from old tea trees in parts of Yunnan Province from April to July.

NOTE: the spring season is divided up into 4 periods of time, and the harvest dates of China’s most  famous green teas, such as Longjing, are associated with certain dates on the agricultural calendar. This is the breakdown:

  1. pre-Qing Ming or Ming Qian tea ( leaf plucked before April 5th )
  2. Before the Rains or Yu Qian tea ( leaf plucked before April 20th )
  3. Spring tea or Gu Yu tea ( leaf pucked before May 6th )
  4. Late spring or Li Xia ( leaf plucked before May 21st )

India: spring tea from the Nilgiris are manufactured in April/May.

Korea: the first of the season green – Ujeon – is plucked just before Koku ( the first grain rain and the sixth seasonal division), around April 20th.

Taiwan: spring pluck Wenshan Baozhong comes to market towards the end of April. Production of high-mountain oolong starts in late April. The harvest begins in the lower elevation tea gardens and moves up the mountains as warm weather reaches the higher elevations.

  • MAY

China: production of Lapsang Souchong begins in northern Fujian Province in early May: in southern Fujian, Anxi semiball -rolled ‘green’ oolongs ( Tieguanyin, and Se Zhong varietals: Ben Shan, Huang Jin Gui, Mao Xie, Tou Tian Xiang ) begin to appear in mid-May. Black teas such as Anhui’s Keemun Hao Ya A and Keemun Mao Feng come to market . The base tea for jasmine tea scenting ( zao pei ) is made and stored until the fresh flower blossoms arrive in the summer. Production of leafy  Bai Mu Dan, Gong Mei and Shou Mei white teas begins and ends in May.

India: 2nd flush teas begin to be plucked in Darjeeling and Assam.

Japan: limited early production of the first seasonal plucking of Shincha in early May is followed by the first plucking of sencha – Ichibancha – in mid-May ).

Korea: production of Sejak occurs during Ipha ( the start of summer- around May 6th ); plucking of Jungjak follows during Soman ( full grains season around May 21st ).

Taiwan:  spring plucking of Li Shan Da Yu Ling high-mountain oolong usually begins just after May 21st and continues into early June.

  • JUNE

China: light roast Wu Yi Shan oolongs ( Da Hong Pao, Jun Zi Lan, Rou Gui, Shui Jin Gui, Shui Xian, etc.) are manufactured in early June
( sometimes late May ).  Traditional charcoal roast Wu Yi Shan oolongs ( heavy roast ) appear about the end of June or early July.

Sri Lanka: the Uva district of the Eastern Highlands produces its quality season teas from June-September.

Taiwan: manufacture of Bai Hao oolong begins in early June.

 Tea Trekker’s 2011 Tea Arrival Timeline

Our tea from the new harvest in China will begin to  arrive in early April. We expect transport of our teas from the tea farms to our store to occur over several air shipments, about 4 weeks apart to coincide with the progression of the new teas as they are plucked and manufactured.

We expect our first air shipment of Darjeeling tea to arrive in April. Our Chinese spring green and yellow teas that will be plucked in March and early April will begin arriving mid-to-end of April. The Chinese green, white and black teas, and Japanese Shincha plucked in April will arrive here in May. Shipments in mid-to-late June or early July will bring our new harvest Japanese senchas and Korean greens.

Getting Ready for the 2011 Spring Tea Season

 

It’s getting close. To the beginning of the annual spring green tea harvests in China, Japan and Korea; and the 1st Flush black teas from the Assam and Darjeeling  regions of northern India.

For retailers of premium tea such as us here at Tea Trekker, this is a very exciting time of year. The quiet days of winter here in New England allow us time to think about what teas we want/need/must have this year. So, we touch base with our colleagues and suppliers now because we know that once the tea harvest begins at the end of March and the first teas begin to leave the tea factories in China, these folks will be too frantically busy to chat at length.

So we talk about our tea needs for the upcoming season. And because we care about our colleagues and what they do, we ask about them and their families, too. Usually the tea part of each conversation goes like this:

  • how are things going ?
  • what’s new?
  • is the weather on track for the spring season ?
  • what can you tell me about predictions for the upcoming harvest ?
  • do you think that can you find me some x, y & z tea this year?
  • is there any reason to change the air courier this year for our air shipments of tea?

Etc, etc, etc.

Everyone is hopeful for a good harvest and no one wants to curse the delicate optimism for a good spring season with a sour note. So speculation runs high for a good harvest for the tea farmers and tea villages.

We report on changes that we would like to see in our teas this year. For some teas, we might want a certain pluck style ( mao feng vs. mao jian ), or a higher grade, or look for a nicer appearance ( better hand-work), or a better color. We always search for a more distinctive, bright taste, perhaps for a tea to be sweeter and less flat in the cup, or from an earlier spring pluck or a later spring pluck.

Etc., etc., etc.

Our initial orders – more like ‘wish lists’ – are bandied about and discussed. It is essential that we get our dibs in early as we know that the premium green teas from China, Japan and Korea are only plucked once a year during a specific time in the spring. As the spring season progress and once the leaf has grown too large, certain teas can no longer be made this year.

So, timing is of the essence; not just in the plucking schedule in the tea gardens, but for us, too, in order to make sure that we do not miss the opportunity to secure the best early season teas.

For the sweetest green teas –  pre-Qing Ming or Before the Rains plucking times  from China;  Shincha and early spring Sencha from Japan and Sejak or Jungjak from Mt. Jiri, Hadong County, Korea ( Ujeon, the 1st plucking from Hadong, is priced in the stratosphere so we offer just a tiny amount of that ), flavorful, bright and invigorating 1st Flush Assams, Darjeelings and Nepalese tea – we must make our selections quickly. It will be a fast turn-around of tasting  the samples that are air-shipped to us as soon as they arrive, immediately deciding on the teas we want, confirming the prices and quanties and OK’aying the air-shipments.

Lining up our tea purchases feels like a game of chess. Which tea producers will have what teas, and from whom do we purchase certain teas ?

There are many variables to consider. We feel like children making out a Christmas list for Santa…..Mary Lou wants Mengding Mt. Rock Essence and Bob hopes that the competition grade Tai Ping Hou Kui is wonderful again this year. We know that customer ‘A” will cry like a baby if such and such tea goes missing again this year, and oh yes,  customer ‘B’ from Oklahoma has already announced that she wants x, y & z teas. And so our planning begins and our budget for purchasing tea grows larger and larger.

 

We think about our website, too, in this quiet time before the storm of tea deliveries begins. What changes will we make ( any suggestions, tea enthusiasts? ) to our website and how will we showcase new teas on the homepage? Which teas need a new photogaphs or more detailed text – we start to make a list!  Are the teawares on the website still available and how many new teacups and teapots will we order?

We also discuss how many new teas we should add and what teas, if any, should be eliminated.  We wonder, too, what teas will disappear due to weather issues, or to changes in the tea production schedule of a certain tea factory. We cross our fingers that we don’t forget anything and that a tea we want does not get snatched up by someone else.

So, until the first batches of our teas begin to arrive in mid – to late April, we will drink tea, and anticipate the arrival of spring.