How is Green Tea Harvested?

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Really rather clever Green tea is increasing in popularity and fast becoming recognised as the natural choice to aid and treat a whole range of ailments and health concerns; and used to support general vitality and well-being.

The Green tea leaves contain a lot of goodness in the form of nutrients, including B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Theanine, Quercetin and Catechins.

History of Green tea

Green tea comes from the perennial plant, Camellia sinensis, which is endemic to East Asia, South East Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Green tea was first cultivated in China almost five centuries ago and has been a staple part of the Chinese diet ever since. Noted as being the world’s first tea grower, Wu Lizhen of the West Han Dynasty (53 BC) is said to have ‘planted seven fairy tea plants which neither grew nor died on Mengshan Mountain’. The ‘magical’ tea from these plants was reputed to transform whoever consumed it into a higher spiritual being, blessed with a higher state of consciousness. Green tea was initially used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat many different conditions and exalted for its overall health positives. It was common to discover Camellia sinensis growing close to the Buddhist temples as the monks used Green tea as part of their practice. Japan and Korea cottoned on to the well-being properties of Green tea and towards the end of the 10th century the cultivation and use of Green tea was firmly established in these countries too, producing a distinctive Green Tea unique to the respective growing areas.

Where is Green tea grown today?

Today Camellia sinensis is grown on tea plantations in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world; excelling in sunny weather and hot temperatures. Although this type of climate provides the ideal conditions for this plant to thrive, you may be surprised just how far-flung, or should I say close to home tea is grown. You could stumble across a tea plantation or two in the unlikely location of South Cornwall, for instance, where Camellia sinensis is grown and Green tea is produced by the Tregothnan Estate.

Producers and exporters of Green tea

Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and India are all prolific producers, users and exporters of Green tea. The original, however, and still the best, in the eyes of many; China remains the major producer of Green tea, exporting over 80% of the Green tea that's consumed worldwide. China is forecast to produce 1352 thousand metric tonnes of Green tea in 2017 of which 379.7 thousand metric tonnes will be exported worldwide. And although major growers of Green tea, Japan exports very little, most being consumed at home.

Harvesting

Traditional harvesting practices in China haven’t changed a great deal over the centuries and in many regions the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are still picked carefully by hand, with harvesting still synchronised with the patterns of the seasons and weather. There are now places that employ the use of machines to pick the tea leaves, particularly on some large plantations where productivity is high. However, on plantations such as those in Longjing, for example, traditional practices continue, unchanged by the passing of time.
Centuries of handed down knowledge and experience ensures the tea leaves are picked at exactly the right time and the ‘right time’ will vary. Harvesting times are dependent on location and affected by weather conditions. A snap of cold weather can set back harvesting and unusually high temperatures can accelerate growth of the leaves and bring the whole process of plucking and processing forward. Camellia sinensis usually begins to produce shoots three to four years after being planted and can be gently harvested at this stage. Once established healthy plants can grow new leaves at an astonishing rate, when managed well, and individual plants can live for many decades boasting an impressive annual harvest. There are tell-tale signs that show the leaves are ready for plucking which give the tea pickers the Green tea light for ‘Go’. ‘The perfect leaves will be light green, still a little curled over and soft, almost downy to touch.’ There’s a particular technique to picking the leaves and buds to avoid causing damage to the plant. It’s the top two leaves and the bud which are generally plucked; in a swift, regular and rhythmic motion, using both hands to increase productivity. Traditionally (and still to this day in many countries, such as Sri Lanka and provinces of China) picking tea leaves was a predominantly female occupation, while the men folk were often farmers or worked on the processing and production of the tea..

In China, the growing season lasts for a long 8 months of the year and the leaves and buds are harvested at specific times. There are generally three harvesting periods over the course of a year. The spring shoots grow from March to May. This is the period when the plant is most productive and during this period spring harvest takes place where the first, fresh buds and baby leaves of the tea plant are picked. Packed with all of the Green tea vitality, these fresh tips and young, tender leaves are potent with all the beneficial nutrients this plant provides. The specific week for harvesting will vary from region to region but some Green teas are plucked as early as late March if optimal growing conditions and seasonal weather has been good. Tradition also plays a part in when the spring tea leaves are harvested, and if the weather permits the spring harvest will co-incide with the Quingming Festival which occurs on 4 or 5 April each year. Generally speaking the peak period for picking these first buds and leaves tends to be April. From late May/early June to the start of July the second growing stage takes place followed by harvesting. The leaves that are plucked during this harvesting period are much larger than the spring tips. Throughout the growing season the plants are regularly pruned to produce continuous shoots. The growing and harvesting season comes to an end with the final flux of growth occurring from mid July to October. At what stage the leaves are harvested, influences the taste, aroma, astringency and nutritional potency of the Green tea produced.

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