tea picking

Tea Learning

Learn | 5 key elements to making good tea 五項關鍵影響茶的品質

Tea appreciation can be scientific and determined methodologically step by step. Let's break down the elements of a good tea into five categories.

Tea leaves on tea plants

Tea leaves on tea plants

tea leaves oxidizing on bamboo baskets

tea leaves oxidizing on bamboo baskets

1. Raw tea and the kind of tea it's suitable for making

Tea varietal and the growth stage of the tea leaves determines the most suitable kind of tea to make. Starting from the top, different tea varietal has different flavours and aroma. Each varietal has different levels of polyphenol, amino acid, caffeine, carbohydrate, and aromatic components. Varietals with larger tea leaves contain more bitter polyphenols so they are suitable for making black tea. Black tea's high oxidization will turn the bitter polyphenols to a less bitter form. Medium and small tea leaves contain less polyphenols so are more suitable for oolongs and green teas.  

2. tea farm environment

Tea environment involves sun, air, soil and water; all the essentials for growing anything. Conditions for daylight hours, strong or weak sunlight, temperature, rainfall, weather, humidity, altitude, latitude and local terrain all further influence the tea quality. Any change of condition causes a stress on the tea plants. For example, high mountain teas are constantly stressed due to cool temperature and possibility of complete ruin caused by frost bites. On lower altitude levels, teas are stressed by conditions such as bug bites, torrential downfalls, high heat and humidity.

3. tea farm maintenance

Tea farms maintenance requires management on fertilizers, pesticides, weed, bug prevention, trimming and irrigation. Proper management and strict cleanliness and health regulations will further improve the quality of the tea. Fertilizers used wrongly not only deteriorate healthy soil, it also worsens the quality and quantity of tea plants. Weed should be managed side by side with tea plants so it can retain water and hold soil together during heavy rain. Tea leaves must not be picked completely so to support the health of the plants and the plants must be trimmed properly to maintain top shape in quality and quantity year by year. 

4. Tea making skills

With everything falling into place and luck of good weather, the raw tea material relies on the technique of tea pickers and tea makers. Different maturity of tea leaves contain different internal property which would determine the kind of tea it is most suitable for. The tea makers must be able to control the processes based on the condition of the raw material and the environment (humidity, temperature, sun, time of day). Tea makers must be able to react and constantly adjust their processing method in order to make the best tea out of the raw teas. Final steps such as getting rid of stems, yellow leaves, roasting and mixing tea will further refine the quality and consistently provide quality product. 

5. Storage

Tea is basically a processed dry good. It needs proper dry storage; away from sunlight and humidity and air. Proper storage will age the teas which will turn the teas into something different and unique from the fresh teas. Aging is generally good for oolongs and black teas and not great for green teas. 

Elements for making a good tea isn't just the elevation, picking only young buds or drinking them fresh within 3 months. It begins from the classical 5 elements; earth, water, air, fire, and aether and extending to the works of everyone involved from trimming, weeding, picking, processing to the final stage of storage. Understand it like planting vegetables and growing trees and making jam, every element involves the other; it's a cycle of nature!


Tea Stories

Story | Tea Picking

Tea picking has always been a dreamy job to me. Imagine being surrounded by tea trees every day and working in the sun, who wouldn't want to do that everyday? 

Do you know what tea pickers do? 

Tea picking is a physical demanding job, in the past and in the present too. Premium Taiwanese teas are hand picked so the leaves are wholesome instead of missing the stem or missing half the leaf. The tea pickers carry big bamboo baskets on their back, get up to work before dawn and then spend entire mornings working up and down the hilly tea farms. Sometimes the pickers also help with oxidizing the tea leaves on bamboo trays and sorting out the quality of the leaves in the afternoon and evenings.

Did you know Taiwan had tea picking competitions?

In early and mid 90s, Taiwan held annual tea picking competitions. It gathers all the best tea pickers in Taiwan. They competed on 3 things:
1. Cleanly pick all the good leaves from the section they are assigned.

2. Two leaf one bud standard with first leaf 70% of the second leaf.
3. The weight of the leaves they picked.

Let's hear it from a retired tea picker...

My grandma was a professional tea picker. In mandarin it's called "採茶女" which means "picking tea lady". One weekend afternoon, she sat down and told us all about her passion.

She use to attend tea picking competitions every year. There's one summer she'll never forget. She picked long and hard under the summer heat along with the other contestants. She was so confident her teas would be the best thus winning the grand prize however, all the contestants were asked to put down their tea baskets to take a few photos. When she return to find her basket, she realized the tea baskets were all mixed up! No one knew which is which anymore. Grandma was so upset about what happened she remembered till this day. 

Tea picking ladies wearing big bamboo hats and bamboo baskets.

Tea picking ladies wearing big bamboo hats and bamboo baskets.

Tea ladies doing quality control. They are sorting through tea leaves and picking out the teas that are not up to standard.

Tea ladies doing quality control. They are sorting through tea leaves and picking out the teas that are not up to standard.

Next time you sip tea, treasure it and appreciate it! Every single leaf was picked by by hand with passion and dedication for tea. It's an essential element to amazing Taiwanese teas.

That's all for now everyone! Thank you for reading, next week, we'll talk about the different kinds of Taiwanese teas!

With tea,