Happy spring, tea lovers of the Northern Hemisphere! We recently celebrated the Equinox, so we’re ready for the arrival of cheerful sunshine, chirping birds, warmer temperatures, and, of course, yummy spring teas. Springtime for teas means the plants are waking up after a period of dormancy in winter and starting to grow again.
They’re beginning the journey to your teacup!
The Start of Springtime for Teas: The Early Birds
Some of the earliest tea harvesting begins in:
- Yunnan Province (southwestern China)
- Assam and Darjeeling (eastern India)
- parts of Sri Lanka (an island nation off the southern coast of India)
In these areas, workers may start plucking as early as February, especially if the plantations use special irrigation techniques to encourage plant growth.
Young leaves from early spring (“first flush”) are usually smaller than more mature leaves with a higher concentration of aroma and taste. Once summer hits, the plants grow much faster, and the tea flavors are less-concentrated.
Mid-Springtime for Teas: The Busy Season
Mid-March into April is probably the most active tea-plucking time for most of China’s regions (especially green teas), and the first flush harvest continues in India. The spring picking season begins in earnest in parts of Nepal and Taiwan.
In late April through mid-May, Japan begins producing its first teas of the season (shincha). Although most Japanese teas are picked mechanically nowadays, the highest-quality shincha is hand-plucked.
Assam and Darjeeling generally finish their first flushes, and elsewhere in India is busy, too. For example, this time is the peak for the Nilgiri spring teas. During a plucking season, workers pick the tea in intervals of 4-7 days. Growers must find the delicate balance between productivity and tree health, as too much picking is bad for the tea plant. After a few weeks, the first flush is over, and they must allow the tea plants to rest for a few weeks.
Late Springtime and Summer for Teas
Later spring starts the busy time for Japan. Their main harvesting season is mid-May through September. Additionally, many Japanese teas (like matcha, or gyokuro) are shade-grown. This means they are covered with shades that block the sun for a time prior to harvest. As a result, the plants can’t photosynthesize as usual and instead, produce more chlorophyll and amino acids. Because the shaded leaves grow more slowly, they are generally picked later in spring.
In India, workers generally pick the 2nd flush teas in Darjeeling and Assam in late spring. They want to harvest teas before the monsoon rains come.
Late spring is also the time for plucking the leaves that will become jasmine-scented teas. These tea leaves are carefully stored until summer, when the jasmine flowers emerge. (To learn more about jasmine teas and the scenting process, we recommend reading this!)
Autumn for Teas: Generally Quieter
China and Taiwan produce a few oolongs later in the year, like Tie Guan Yin (the base for our Vanilla Hazelnut oolong), for example. In India and Nepal, the monsoons are over, and workers pick the autumn flush, before the trees go dormant for the winter.
For the most part, the busyness of the tea-growing season is over, and very few regions produce any tea after November.
Although it’s quieter in the tea fields, autumn in the Northern Hemisphere usually kicks off the start of the busy tea-drinking season! But who are we kidding?–tea is a beverage best enjoyed year-round!!
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