Tea harvesting time depends on several factors such as region of growth and weather. Timing plays a major role in tea harvestation. Some buds appear and fully develop all within a few days so missing the harvest can eliminate any chances of making certain teas. Certain teas require only the buds or only a small number of leaves after the bud opens.
Cool weather is usually a good sign of what’s to come. Although during the period of cool weather it will be relatively quiet in the tea field in terms of growth, after this period the first new shoots are of the highest quality. This is due to the fact that the nutrients have been building up, during the “quiet” period, for the new leaves.
This first harvest Is so unique and important to tea harvesters, that certain regions have given it a special name. In India and Nepal, it is called the “first flush” while in China they refer to it as “Pre-Qing Ming” teas. In Japan it is called “Shincha” and in South Korea, “Ujeon”. Each region also has a set of terms for referring to tea harvest periods. In India and Nepal, each harvest is called a “flush”. In China, Taiwan and South Korea, the terms are simply dates in the traditional East Asian lunisolar calendar. Here’s a quick guide to the harvest seasons for the world’s major producers of specialty teas: India, Nepal, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and the countries of East Africa:
India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Tea Harvest Darjeeling (India) & Nepal The Darjeeling and Nepali 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. At times, the plants will continue to flush past November; this is sometimes called a winter flush.
First Flush: March – April
Second Flush: May – June
Monsoon Flush: July – August
Autumnal Flush: October – November
Nilgiri (India) & Sri Lanka Due to the lack of a cold season in the southernmost growing regions of India, such as Nilgiri in South India and Sri Lanka, tea plants can be harvested year round. Like Darjeelings, Assams are typically harvested from March to October. Higher quality teas are harvested here during two specific growth periods, the First and Second Flush. All other grades of tea are harvested after this period. The First Flush begins in March, the Second in June.
China & Taiwan Tea Harvest
The harvest season in China and Taiwan varies greatly between the different growing regions and elevations there, but in general the harvest season can begin as early as April and can last until late November. Finished teas that are made from young leaves or buds and have a more limited growing season will typically be harvested on or near dates on the East Asian lunisolar calendar. Teas plucked before Qing Ming are highly sought after and command an extra charge, these teas are called Pre Qing Ming teas. Here’s how the rest of the harvest season looks:
Qing Ming “clear bright”: 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
Finished teas that are made from older leaves usually do not follow such a strict harvest calendar and can be harvested at any time from April to November.
Japan Tea Harvest
The harvest season in Japan varies by region as well but typically begins in late April and ends in early October. Japan’s much desired first harvest, Shincha, may be the most sought after, but there are 4 other harvest periods:
Shincha “new tea”: this is the name given to the first harvest of the year
Ichibancha “first tea”: this refers to the entire first harvest season, including Shincha and typically occurs from late April to May
Nibancha “second tea”: refers to the second harvest of the year taking place from June to the end of July
Sanbancha “third tea”: third harvest of the year taking place in August
Yonbancha “fourth tea”: this is the fourth harvest of the year and can take place as late as October in some regions
South Korea Tea Harvest
South Korea’s growing seasons match with the dates on the lunisolar calendar. Finished tea from the first harvest of the year is called Ujeon. All other harvest periods contain the word “jak” which means sparrow and is a reference to “sparrow’s tongue tea” or jaksul cha. Interestingly, in some point in history someone thought that tea leaves resemble sparrow tongues. It is important to note that in South Korea, different grades are harvested during different times so the harvest period is judged by the grade of tea picked during that time. Let’s take a look:
Sejak: “small sparrow”: tea picked before May 5-6 which corresponds to Ipha on the lunisolar calendar.
Jungjak “medium sparrow”: 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.
Ujeon “before the rain”: tea picked before April 20 which corresponds to Gogu on the lunisolar calendar.
Africa Tea Harvest
In the East African tea producing countries of Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, and Ethiopia, tea is able to be harvested year round due to the lack of a cold season with rainy seasons containing the peak of tea production.