Green Tea Buyer's Guide To
Spring Harvested High Grade

It pays to buy green tea in early Spring, but not all early crops are equally good.



The best time to buy green tea is in spring. The first pick from a tea garden makes the finest green tea. It keeps fresh longer, and it is less likely to be diluted by poorer quality tea picked later.

In China, early crops command a premium price. This is because higher grade tea is picked earlier and consists of very young buds and leaves.

Unlike the matured leaves we tend to drink daily, these tea buds and yet-to-unfurl leaves are small and pointed, rather than large and rounded.

Nevertheless, harvest date is only one of the many factors to consider when deciding which tea is of the highest quality.

Early crop per se is not necessarily a sign of quality. Standard practice is to start picking when 5% of the garden is ready. Picking too early, before the tea buds reach a minimum size, can hurt its quality.

Why are some teas picked earlier than the others even though they may be of similar age?

Geography

The warmer the climate, the earlier the crops.

Roughly speaking, Southern provinces such as Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan are ready for picking by early February.

Middle provinces such as Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Hunan follow. They are ready for picking in mid-March.

Northern provinces such as Henan comes last, from mid-April onwards.

Tea Species

New species such as Longjing 43 buds approximately 10 days earlier than the traditional Longjing varieties.

These tea plants are grown in newer villages, so they tend to be of lower quality than those in older tea villages, where the best conditions exist and traditional methods are still being followed.

Micro Factors

Harvesting dates can be manipulated by farmers. Tea plants shielded from winter chills can bud 10 days earlier.

Plant age plays a part too. Younger tea plants bud earlier than older tea plants.

Conclusion

First picks from a green tea garden are always the finest from that tea garden. But comparing two different tea gardens can be like comparing apples and oranges.

Other factors, such as altitude, whether the tea is handpicked and handcrafted, and location are equally important, as are crop dates.

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References

Xu Zhen Bing (1996). Zhongguo Mingyoucha. Jingdun Chubanshe.

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