This is the next installment of a series of blog posts on Tea Terroir.
Tea terroir is the set of environmental factors that influence the taste and overall characteristics of a tea. Read the other articles here:
Climate and Tea Taste (Tea Terroir Part I)
Sunshine & Tea Quality (Tea Terroir Part II)
A Terroir Case Study: Matcha Green Tea
Elevation, Latitude, And Tea Quality (Tea Terroir Part III)
Soil And Tea Quality (Tea Terroir Part IV)
Native Ecosystem And Tea Quality (Tea Terroir Part V)
The way a tea is harvested is important for the quality of tea. Handpicked teas are of better quality than tea harvested using a machine because the leaves are not accidentally torn or damaged. Additionally, the bud and top two leaves of a tea plant are the parts of the tea plant that are harvested and of best quality for tea production. When tea is handpicked, the accuracy of picking just the bud and top two leaves is better than it is with a machine.
Tea that is wild and not kept in the confines of a tea farm or plantation is also of better quality because of the rich surrounding ecosystem and the age of the plants. Old tea trees yield small batches of highly prized tea. These trees have long roots that are able to reach and absorb the nutrients of nearby plants and deeper soil. From this perspective, the history of the way a tea plant was harvested-or not harvested-is important when assessing a tea’s terroir. If a tea was machine picked, it would remain a tea bush and never grow enough to become a tree. If it was left to grow wild, however, the tree would grow and take on very interesting and complex characteristics.
All the elements that make up a tea's terroir are closely related. I've broken this explanation of tea terroir into a series of posts going over relevant elements to consider, but truly they are all intertwined. Many of these tea terroir factors come back to the same principles of tea quality. Some of these are:
1. Tea grown at higher elevations is usually better quality.
2. Tea exposed to a diverse ecosystem is usually more unique and considered better quality.
3. Tea exposed to some harsh climate conditions such as cold and frost grows more slowly and usually yields a better quality product.
A tea grown at high elevation is better quality not only because of the elevation, but because high elevation often means rocky/mineral soil, exposure to frost, and the uneven terrain forces tea producers to pick the leaves by hand as opposed to using machines and risking tearing the leaves.
Next time you're enjoying a tea, let your mind wander and imagine the conditions the plant was grown in before it was crafted into the leaves you enjoy in your cup. Cheers!