The harvest time for tea leaves largely depends on the region in which they are being grown and can also vary from season to season in regards to the fluctuations in weather.
Timing the harvest is of the utmost importance because it can take only a few days for a bud to appear, open up and grow into a large leaf. If the optimum harvest time is missed a whole crop can be destroyed.
This is mainly due to the fact that a specific style of tea may require the use of only the buds, or that only a certain number of buds be picked after the buds open. If there is a period of dormancy, due to cool weather, in the field, the first new shoots after this period are of the highest quality, making them the most sought after and usually the most expensive.
The reason for this increase in quality is that they have been building up nutrient reserves over this period for the new leaves.
Several growing regions have names for the first harvest of tea leaves. In India and Nepal, it is called the “first flush”, in China, these harvests are known as “Pre-Qing Ming” teas, in Japan they are referred to as “Shincha” and in South Korea, Ujeon.”
Each growing region also has a special set of terms for referring to a period of growth in the tea plant. In China, Taiwan and South Korea, the terms used to signify tea harvests are dates in the traditional East Asian Lunisolar Calendar.
Here is a guide to the harvest seasons for the world’s major specialty tea producers:
India, Nepal and Sri Lanka Tea Harvest
Darjeeling, India and Nepal - The Darjeeling and Napali harvest period lasts from late March to early November and is broken up into 4 parts: first flush, second flush, monsoon flush and autumnal flush. Sometimes, the plants will continue to flush past November and this is usually called a winter flush.
First Flush: March - April
Second Flush: May - June
Monsoon Flush: July - August
Autumnal Flush: October - November
Nilgiri India and Sri Lanka - Since there isn’t a cold season in the southernmost growing regions like Nilgiri in South India and Sri Lanka, tea plants can be harvested throughout the year.
Assam India - Assam, like Darjeelings, are usually harvested from March to October. The higher quality teas are harvested during the two distinct growth periods of the first and second flush. The first flush begins in March and the second in June.
China and Taiwan
In China and Taiwan, the harvest season varies greatly between the different growing regions and elevations in the countries. However, in general the harvest season can begin as early as April and last until late November.
The harvest season in these regions are:
Qing Ming (clear bright): This is tea picked before April 4-6
Yu Qian (before the rains): Tea picked before April 20
Gu Yu (grain rain): Tea picked before May 5
Li Xia (start of summer): tea picked before May 21
Japan’s harvest season also varies by region, but typically begins in late April and ends in early October.
Japan’s harvest periods include:
Shincha (new tea): this is the name given to the first harvest of the year.
Ichibancha (first tea): this refers to the whole first harvest season, including shincha and usually occurs from late April to May.
Nibancha (second tea): This refers to the second harvest of the year that takes place from June to the end of July.
Sanbancha (third tea): The third harvest of the year taking place in August.
Yonbanchi (fourth tea): This is the fourth harvest of the year which can take place as late as October in some regions.
The growing seasons in South Korea correspond to dates on the lunisolar calendar. It’s important to know that in South Korea, different grades of tea are harvested during different times so the harvest period is defined by the grade of tea picked during that time.
Here are the different harvesting periods in South Korea:
Ujeon (before the rain): This is tea picked before April 20 which corresponds with Gogu on the lunisolar calendar.
Sejak (small sparrow): Tea picked before May 5-6 which corresponds to Ipha on the the lunisolar calendar.
Jungjak (medium sparrow): This is tea picked around May 20-21 which corresponds to Soman on the lunisolar calendar.
Daejak (large sparrow): This harvest period refers to lower quality large leaves tea picked during the summer.
Due to the lack of a cold season in the East African countries of Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi and Ethiopia, tea is able to be harvested year round. Peak tea production coincides with the rainy seasons.
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