Understanding Tea Terroir

What is terroir? Wikipedia’s definition for this French term-“Terroir is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate and tea.”  But I think you cannot understand terroir without also understanding the impact of the people that cultivate the terroir.

iStock_Dong.many.tea.field-1

I like to say to our adult children none of you grew up in the same home. I as a parent I was seasoned & shaped differently with each addition to our family, with each surrounding life circumstance and with the influence maturity brought. Each of our children were parented differently hence a different environment/terroir influencing delightfully different results.

Tea as well grows differently in different environments, producing a variety of delightful flavors. The type of soil, air, level of moisture, soil drainage, amount of cloud coverage, the variety & type of surrounding agriculture, the age of the plant and the people who cultivate the estate all affect the end results. Typically a talk on terroir considers only the geography and ecology of the environment. Our blog highlights all of this plus the significant impact of the expertise of the tea producers and tea pickers.

Beautiful-Tea-Fields cloudy

The 5 traditional countries of origin include China, India, Taiwan, Japan and Sri Lanka but many other nations (almost 50)  grow tea. These nations have terroir that lends to producing the environment that tea generally requires; high altitudes, misty cloud coverage, high moisture, steep terrain that terrace for drainage and moderate temperatures, to mention a few.

Terraced tea field

Altitude can vary for cultivars. The varietal camellia sinensis sinensis typically enjoys high altitude, high moisture and high cloud coverage. Camellia sinensis assamica can also enjoy a lower altitude with high moisture and produce a very different, delightful personality.

The tea master or producer, first knowing the cultivar, takes the all differences of the terroir into consideration when processing.  For example two teas going through the oolong process from the same estate may require a few different and needed steps in the process because the air had a higher water content that day, the cloud coverage varied on one side of the mountain longer then usual or the soil drainage was hindered. More rolling, firing or baking may be required with each harvest.  The geographic and ecologic differences influence the decisions the tea master makes in the processing stage. Understanding the terrroir requires expertise at each step of the process. I cannot separate the human wisdom & influence on the terrain when explaining it’s impact.iStock_Tea_picker

The picture we chose for the K’Tizo Tea Website is from the Yunnan province of China.  This woman is from the Dong people group.  The picture beautifully reveals a striking image of one of the people groups that cultivates tea with a sense of purpose and pride.  When we think of terroir we often think of merely the geographic and ecologic influences but a significant influence to the terroir are the people who cultivate & nurture the land.  Though my travels have been very limited into the tea and coffee nations, the little I have seen, has been of people who appreciate and value the products their land produce. I appreciate how this picture portrays and conveys dignity to the people behind the leaf. When you think of the tea terroir I trust you will expand you thoughts to think of the tender care that the many tea growers take to produce the enjoyable beverage we call ‘tea’ along with the geography and ecology of the setting.

Judy

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