The drought that hit the pu’er tea areas is now well-spoken fact: the hints we got last winter, with few seeds on our trees, has received a confirmation with the current tea harvest, delayed and slightly low-yielded. In this post we explain what does it implies for tea producers and how Eastern Leaves is going to cope with it.
The two seasons
The rural activities on the mountain are ruled by two long seasons, which slowly turn one into the other: from the light pastel coloured sky of the wet season, the rain showers and tempests gently decrease till an almost complete stop, that is the peak of the dry season and the peak of the tea harvest as well.
In the tea trees cradle, in South-West Yunnan, the area East and West of Xishuangbanna city where all the “12 famous pu’er mountains” rises, the climate is typically tropical, with a rainy season from June to November followed by a drier one that occupied the other half of the year.
During the wet season the land stores energy and nourishment from the abundant rain, the forest vegetation flourishes and the tea trees join to the fast growing environment. When the rain thins out the trees grows at a slower pace, storing a high mineral content in their leaves: this is the reason why the first flush, which happens at the end of the dry season, with the first sprouts, is the most valuable, the one with the richest taste.
Usually this seasonal dry peak is in mid March, and the rain starts in the beginning of April, first with few drops every week or few days, than more and more regularly till the wet climax in July and August.
The 2016/2017 season
The 2016 has been a very dry year, the driest of the last decade: as you can see in the infographic, in the middle months of the year, which are the biggest source of water of the year, we have got about half of the usual rainfall.
The drought has brought some consequences, some unexpected facts to cope with. The first and clearest is the harvesting and tea processing schedule change: the 2017 harvest arrived later than usual. We have started to pick up the fresh leaves with a couple of weeks of delay, and in smaller quantities. Our pace has been slower, our days less hectic, our people definitely happier.
The harvest to date has been spread in a longer period of time, helped by some light rain showers which created wonderful sprouts: it has required a different organisation and a more attentive care, considering all the tea forest micro-areas.
The trees and the tea production: logistical implication
The drought doubled our effort and costs on the mountain: some parts of the forest suffered and required to be taken care of, especially the younger trees, and a couple of the eldest and most valuable trees drifted toward a dangerous weakness. Still, nature has once more provided to itself, and the water arrived just in time, allowing us a great Spring time.
The production processes need some adjustment as well: the leaves have contain less water, therefore they require a different treatment. Let’s take as an example the pu’er sheng pu production process, with the “killing the green” phase where the leaves are pan-fried: it is a hand made phase, and the tea master, with the new conditions, needs to feel the leaves state and to adapt his technique in order not to burn nor under-drying the leaves. It is more delicate, and more skilled professionals are required.
The new 2017 teas roadmap
The red teas, as is our custom, will be released after about two months: due to the procedure we use, we release it only after complete maturation and selection.
The Yueguangbai white tea will be release in about 3 to 6 weeks, the forecasted time to have enough fresh sprouts to work on.
Quality, quantity and prices
The Eastern Leaves tea distinctive traits are totally preserved and equal to what expected from the peculiar characteristics of Nannuo and Pasha mountains. The pu’er shengpu, especially, has a more intense aftertaste than previous years, and we expect a lot from its pressing.
It is impossible at the moment to make any forecast abut the exact quantity, but we can be pretty sure that the first flush will record a slightly lower yield. The shadow areas of our forest diminished the water loss from the soil, but still the quantity of sprouts up to date has been lower than expected.
Everywhere in the area it is expected a rise in the prices; nonetheless, we strongly wish to keep our first flush retail prices unchanged.