This is the next installment of a series of blog posts on Tea Terroir. Read the first one here.
Tea terroir is the set of environmental factors that influence the taste and overall characteristics of a tea.
The native ecosystem of a tea plant’s growing region is composed of other plants and insects. These other plants and insects are part of a tea’s terroir and influence the flavor of the tea.
Camellia Sinensis is a plant that has very absorbent leaves, and that is a big reason why what’s growing near it matters so much. A tea growing in an area with lots of flowers would take on a floral scent and taste. Some common plants that teas borrow flavors from are pine and mushroom. This occurrence is most common in wild tea plants and less so with tea plantations because the latter have less exposure to rich and diverse outside influences. Wild tea trees produce some of the most prized tea because their environments give them unique flavor profiles.
Aside from other plants, insects are part of a tea’s native ecosystem and are also tea’s predators. When an insect starts to eat a tea leaf, the plant releases certain chemicals called polyphenols as a defense. These polyphenols change the taste of the tea when it is harvested.
Occasionally, this new flavor has a positive impact on the quality of the tea. In these cases, tea farmers will encourage the insects’ feasts- up to a certain point. If the insects eat too much, the quality of the tea will eventually decline so it is all about finding a balance. Geraniol is an example of one of these defensive compounds that plants release and gives the tea notes of rose.
Additionally, when insects bite tea plants, bacteria have the opportunity to grow and give the tea a different flavor. These bacteria are not harmful but edible and even enjoyable. Finally, if insects die and rot in the soil, they can serve as a natural soil fertilizer for the Camellia Sinensis plant.
Stay tuned for more info on tea terroir in future posts. Cheers!