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.


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.


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!