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Tea growing: how are the leaves harvested?
Black tea, green tea, white tea... Do you know how tea is grown? This beverage, which is now part of our daily lives, is rich in history and its harvesting follows a very precise protocol subject to several conditions. In this article, Fauchon explains everything about tea harvesting.
Tea: what are its origins?
Tea originated in China over 5,000 years ago. The beverage is now the second most consumed beverage in the world after water and continues to appeal to many people around the world.
There are several legendary tales about the birth of tea. The most famous is the story that the emperor Shen Nong invented tea by chance. While boiling his water under a shrub, some leaves fell into the water while the emperor was sleeping. Tasting the drink when he woke up, Shen Nong decided to develop the cultivation of this shrub, the tea plant, because he found the tea so tasty. This initiative was a success, and the cultivation of tea spread throughout Asia. It was not until later that tea was introduced to Europe by the Dutch.
From then on, tea became a popular drink, especially in England, where Queen Anne Stuart first drank it for breakfast: the beverage was so popular that today it is a staple of English culture. Tea is an integral part of breakfast and afternoon tea, the famous "tea time"!
Tea: when to harvest?
Tea picking is based on two species of camellia:
Camellia assamica: a tea plant native to the Assam plain in India, known since the 19th century;
Camellia sinensis: a tea plant native to China, this variety is the only one cultivated in China and Japan today.
Tea cultivation and harvesting times depend largely on the latitude of the tea gardens, i.e. the number of hours of daylight and night in a day. Harvesting can take place at any time, except when the tea bush goes into dormancy, i.e. when it is exposed to less than 11 hours of daylight per 24 hours for at least 6 weeks.
Therefore, when the tea plant is dormant, harvesting must be interrupted: this dormant period includes regions far from the equator. This is because in regions closer to the equator, such as Sri Lanka or India, the tea bushes never go dormant. Thus, tea plantations can be harvested all year round in these geographical areas, although care must be taken to avoid monsoon periods.
Tea: how is the harvest carried out?
The tea plants are grown in plantations, which are also called gardens. In these gardens, tea is mostly picked by hand, and this is the case in the majority of producing countries. Depending on the period of dormancy of the tea bushes, plucking usually takes place up to four times a year. However, there are also tea bushes that grow in wild areas that are very difficult to access, particularly in certain mountains in Vietnam. The harvests of these trees produce beverages comparable to grand crus.
Other harvests of great teas that are easier to access are also eagerly awaited each year, notably the spring harvests in Japan and Darjeeling: the teas from these harvests generally produce vintages with an unparalleled aromatic richness. However, the summer, monsoon and autumn harvests are also very important and each of them reveals very specific tea notes.
During the harvest, pluckers focus on several parts of the tea plant, including the pekoe, which also means the bud. Located at the end of the tree's branches, the bud contains the richest aromatic notes of the tea (tannin, caffeine, etc.): the pekoe therefore has great potential and must be picked very carefully. The pickers will then concentrate on the young leaves, often light green in colour: rich in theine and tannin, they should not be neglected during the harvest.
Thus, three types of plucking exist to ensure the production of tea:
Classic plucking: this method consists of picking the pekoe and the four leaves closest to it. This method is used for entry-level trains.
Fine plucking: in this method, the pekoe and the two closest leaves are plucked. Often used for high quality teas, this practice allows the richest tannins and essential oils to be extracted from the plant.