Blog 52: Harvest in A Rainy Day?

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

It has been a while since we last talked about tea-making. In the past, we’ve introduced quite a lot detailed knowledge on many aspects of tea-making. (if you’re interested in reading more about tea-making blogs, please click here for oolong, here for black tea, here for white tea.) In our tea-making, we strictly follow a practice that roughly translates into “tea-making depends on the weather” (Chinese: 看青做青, pronounced: kàn qīng zuò qīng). As its name suggests, the tea-making needs to adjusted based on the weather condition. In some rainy days, there won’t be any tea-making activities at all. Today, let’t talk about why we don’t want to harvest in a rainy day, and the difference between a sunny day harvest and a rainy day harvest.


Before we begin, I’d like to address that “tea-making depends on the weather” is actually a standard practice. It’s not a selective or a “premium tea” feature, and it’s definitely not our “special”. It’s simply a normal principle that all tea makers should follow.


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A rainy day in our tea mountains.

Our once-a-year harvest is always in spring. In the Wuyi mountain area, spring happens to be the monsoon season. Even in a sunny day, random thundershowers can come and go in an extremely short period of time. Thundershowers can be quite a headache for tea makers. This is why you’d see all tea workers carry bamboo rain hats and straw rain capes even under the bright sun. Tea harvesting is a speed play. We need to harvest as much as possible in a few sunny days.


Harvesting in the rain poses extra risks to tea workers, but this is not the most critical reason why tea makers always try to avoid a “wet harvest”. Fresh leaves harvested in rainy days normally contain too much water (we’ll call them “wet fresh leaves” from now on), and the extra water has a negative impact on the final quality of tea.


Wet fresh leaves are full of water, therefore, they require a much longer withering time. Also, fresh leaves harvested in a sunny day can be sun-dried, but wet fresh leaves can only be dried and withered in a big, heated roller. Sun-dried leaves would lose more polyphenols and pectin, less carbohydrate, and they’d also gain more amino nitrogen. On the contrary, roller-heated fresh leaves lose little polyphenols and more carbohydrate, but gain more pectin. Roller-heated leaves also gain less amino nitrogen than that of sun-dried leaves. The nutrient content is what affecting the quality of tea the most. Typically, sun-dried tea leaves eventually have a sharper aroma and a richer taste while roller-dried leaves smell flat and taste dry.


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The Roller Machine

In theory, we should not harvest wet fresh leaves at all. But in reality, sometimes we still need to harvest wet leaves. Spring harvest has a very short window. Both harvesting too early and too late are detrimental to tea leaf quality. If harvested too early, fresh leaves would be too delicate to be processed; if harvested too late, leaves would be too old. Don’t forget that different tea plants have different harvest times. We simply cannot “wait out” a rain. In this unfortunate scenario, tea makers must do what they have to do.


Not to harvest in the rain is to assure the quality of tea; having to harvest in the rain is also to ensure the quality of tea. In some years, we don’t have rain at all, therefore we don’t need to make a hard decision whether to harvest in the rain. In some years, we just have non-stop rains all the time, if we don’t harvest, we’ll miss the season. Similar to wine, this is why teas also have “good years” and “bad years”.


In tea-making, decision-making is all about ensuring the delivery of the best quality in a given situation. Hopefully this blog can give you a glimpse into why tea makers don’t want to harvest in the rain, and why sometimes they have to harvest in the rain.


I hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at zhang@valleybrooktea.com. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!