Spring Harvest – The Best Teas of the Year?

Rushing to harvest? (Photo source: stock image)
Rushing to harvest? (Photo source: stock image)

When I originally proposed this topic, I had a plan what I would write about it. However, reality came my way in the meantime in the form of this year’s tea spring harvest season in north Thailand, which I was able to witness on site. So, I have decided instead to give a little account of the same, in order to exemplarily expose some of the aspects and issues with spring harvests.

In north Thailand, “winter” sets in by November, with temperatures as low as down to near-zero at night in the higher mountain altitudes, which is where tea is mainly cultivated. Until some time in March, nightly fog and early morning frost will be upon the tea plants, optimal conditions for the tea juices to accumulate and mature inside the tea leaves. In March, when it starts getting hot again, these accumulated mature juices are what will make the spring harvest yield the best teas of the year. At least in theory…

December 2012, Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand

Where is the winter? Apart from a couple of nights with +10°C, there haven’t been any signs of winter yet. No fog, no frost, no winter.

January, 2013, Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand

Though it has gotten a bit colder by now, we are still well above the average temperatures and climate for this season. Tea producers are starting to worry now. They can see the end of last year’s supplies, and they received the first pre-orders from their customers, who say they will purchase a certain amount of tea, as soon as the spring harvest will yield it.

February, 2013, Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand

Finally, winter has set it. The foggy nights on the tea gardens, the early morning frost on the tea plants, everything is now as it should have been at least one, rather 2 months ago. Good news? No, not really. Customers expect to be served with spring harvest teas latest by the end of March. And how will the climate be by then? Will the winter stay, or will it disappear at its regular schedule?

March 2013, Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand

By the end of the month, winter is still on full throttle. No end to foggy nights and morning frost in sight yet. Good news? Sure, but only for those who have no customers to serve who are already waiting for their spring harvest teas. By the middle of the month (and even before that), driven by financial and market pressure, many producers are out in their tea gardens, harvesting them, or parts of them, right in the middle of winter, in order to replenish their storage, satisfy the most impatient customers, and bring some cash into their pockets. A good idea, with regard to the quality of the spring harvest tea? I will leave this unanswered and to the reader’s reasonable judgment.

As of today, by the end of this month, it is still winter in north Thailand, with the very first signs of spring just setting in. Many tea gardens have been harvested prematurely. Other producers, who have refrained from doing so, will have to explain to their customers why spring harvest teas will come at least one whole month after the usual time. While the ones have sacrificed the quality of their spring harvest teas, the others are risking losing their regular customers.

Now, let us have a look at the consumer side, respectively. Spring harvest teas, the best teas of the year? We have just seen that spring harvest tea and spring harvest tea is not necessarily the same, and that while spring harvest teas definitely do have the potential to yield the best tea of the year, this is not necessarily being the case in practice, and quality can indeed widely vary based on the producers’ willingness to pay tribute to financial and market pressures.

See more of Thomas Kasper’s articles here.

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