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Terroir: Climate and Tea Taste

If you've done a wine tasting before you may have heard the term terroir thrown around by the sommelier. Terroir is used to refer to the group of environmental factors like altitude, climate and soil composition that influences the taste of the wine, or in our case, the tea. In this post, I'll focus on the effect of climate, an element of terroir, on tea.


Camellia Sinensis (tea) is an evergreen plant, meaning the plant does not lose its leaves throughout the year. This particular evergreen grows best in regions where there is high humidity (70-90%) and heavy rainfall (at least 50 inches per year), with a dry season lasting 90 days at most. This type of climate can be classified as tropical or sub-tropical. Another characteristic of this climate is that temperatures do not drop below 23°F, which is important for the survival of the plant.


Climate can vary within these general parameters. The length of the dry season and the amount of rainfall are two very important factors that influence the quality of tea. Too much rainfall will cause the tea leaf to grow quickly and take on a bitter flavor. Conversely, a tea that endures some frost may grow more slowly and have a very unique and pleasant taste. This is because rain is an important resource for the tea plant and when it is abundant it is used to grow new leaves instead of helping smaller, older tea buds survive. In the case of a plant that needs to survive some frost, resources are funneled to existing buds and leaves, giving it a more complex chemical profile and more depth of flavor.


Nilgiri Frost is a tea that is grown in India and harvested in the winter time, while the tea is exposed to cold and frost. The cold is a stress factor for the tea leaf and allows certain defense compounds to express themselves chemically and change the flavor of the tea, giving it a unique taste. This tea is lighter than other Indian black teas and can exhibit some floral and fruity flavors.


The spring is a wonderful time to harvest tea in part because of the climate. The weather is starting to warm up and tea leaves are growing but the chemicals are still concentrated in delicate buds- they haven't been diluted into bigger tea plants that grow dramatically during the summer.


Check in next Wednesday for a post discussing Jameela Jamil's social media outrage over detox teas!

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