Early morning, an ancient forest, tea trees bud and leaves grow. The tea harvest—When does it happen and how do we do it at Eastern Leaves?
The basic material — Where does the tea come from?
The dry leaves that we brew in our beloved cups were once fresh, colored a light green-yellow, and plucked off the tips of the tea tree branches.
The tea trees are almost constantly in a state of germination, the amount of which varies according to the climate and weather. During this process they produce fresh, tender buds. The buds are picked along with either two, three, or four leaves—depending on the tree type and season.
A rule of thumb is the older the tree the more leaves picked. Since an old tree is more stable, it grows slowly, and its leaves are richer in taste.
In Eastern Leaves’ forests, we do not have young tea trees, but only those thirty years or older. At this age the trees are no longer growing and are fully mature.
Time – When is the tea harvested?
The southwest Yunnan climate has two seasons: the dry season, which ranges from mid-autumn to late spring, and the rainy season, which encompasses the months between June and October.
In abundant, high quality lands, there are three harvesting seasons. The first begins in early March, the end of the dry season. This harvest produces the finest tea because the buds have had six dry, peaceful months to grow and accumulate minerals and nutrients. The aftertaste produced is the richest and most floral which is why this harvest is valued the highest of the year.
Three or four weeks after the first harvest is complete, the second harvest begins and spans mid-April to mid-May. It is possible to pluck high quality buds during this time period as well.
The tea year ends with one last harvest in October, when the great rains begin to weaken. This tea is classified as Autumn Tea, guhua cha (flower of millet). Its buds are tender compared to those of spring and lack the spring harvest’s body and intensity. However, Autumn Tea is more gentle and sweeter, positioning itself in the high quality range.
At Eastern Leaves we pick a very small quantity of Autumn Tea to preserve the trees and, like most artisan farmers avoid the summer harvest.
Techniques and People – How and who?
Picking tea buds requires an attentive and careful hand to respect the tree and maintain the quality standard. The people of the Hani ethnic minority undoubtedly possess the most skill and knowledge regarding the tea tree. With a great amount of respect for the tree and attention to detail, they are able to obtain the best quality tea.
It is essential to analyze a tree before the harvest to determine the number of leaves to be plucked with the bud. As ancient trees—three or four centuries old—that have grown wild without pruning, our trees are very tall. Reaching our highest buds requires practiced skill and agility. Our farmers possess these qualities naturally. While balancing precariously in these trees, they pluck effortlessly all the while touching the trunks as little as possible to avoid damage to the branches.
Fate of a Leaf — What happens after a leaf is picked?
When a leaf is separated from a tree it is separated from its sources of sap and life and begins to die and decompose. During the harvest it is essential to give the picked leaves enough air and space, to avoid pressing them together in piles, to protect them from the sun, and to preserve their freshness before beginning processing. Therefore, the leaves are transported as soon as possible to the mountain factory to begin the withering process.