Blog 87: How to Differentiate Tea from Spring and Winter Harvests

In our last tea blog, we discussed the real differences between spring and winter harvests (please click here for Blog 86). Today, let’s talk about how we can differentiate teas from spring and winter harvests.


Tea plants in November

It is indisputable that teas from spring harvests have more layers of flavors and aromas. Although winter harvests cannot compete with what spring harvests have to offer, they do possess a quite exclusive character.


In tea-making, winter harvests usually have a “flavor of winter” (Chinese: 冬味, pronunciation: dōng wèi). Even though we say it’s a “taste/flavor” of winter (translated from Chinese /wèi), it actually refers to both the taste and the aroma.


The “flavor of winter” has a light taste of “greeness” and a signature note of sweetness and freshness. Using tea makers’ words, the aroma is “floating” and “light”, and the taste is flat but fresh.


Tea plant in spring.

To better understand why winter harvests have such a character, let’s take Wuyi oolong for example (since it covers nearly all tea-making steps).


Because the sunlight winter harvest leaves receive are weak (please see Blog 86 for details), fragrance essences possessed by fresh winter harvest leaves have a much lower boiling temperature. Therefore, during tea-making, we need very strict temperature control to avoid “evaporating” aromas out of fresh leaves.


But without sufficient heat, the tea-making is not 100% perfect. In Wuyi oolong’s case, it also means that tea leaves cannot be throughly roasted. As a result, teas from winter harvests taste and smell more “uneventful”.


After we understand how winter harvests are different, it’d be much easier to differentiate a winter tea from a spring tea.


First, they taste different. Spring harvests taste richer and more playful. Spring teas also have a stronger and long-lasting sweet aftertaste. By comparison, winter harvests taste bitterer and drier.


Second, aromas are different. Spring harvests’ aroma is perfectly blended into the tea soup. You can “smell” it while drinking the tea soup. Winter teas have a very noticeable “flavor of winter”. Its aroma is separated from the tea soup.


Third, different tea soup colors. Commonly, spring harvests have a very clear tea soup. For black tea or oolong tea, spring harvests also have a bright orange/amber color. By comparison, winter teas’ tea soup looks muddier and greener/yellower.


Fourth, varying leaf bottom (Chinese: 叶底, please see Blog for details about “leaf bottom”). This method works better for oolong teas because oolong teas need to be roasted. Spring harvests have better quality tea leaves, thus fresh spring leaves can endure better and more rounds of roasting. Winter harvests have weaker fresh leaves which cannot be throughly roasted. Hence, the leaf bottom of spring harvest is thicker, stronger and darker. (Please see the photo below.)


Both the color and the leaf bottom have different colors due to different levels of roasting. (the left one is lightly roasted, the right one is normally roasted)

Finally, spring harvests can have more infusions per serving. Because spring harvests have richer nutrient contents, they produce more tea soup per serving. Spring teas from a reputable tea mountain field can last more than 8 infusions. Nonetheless, winter harvests from the same mountain field normally fails to deliver the same number of infusions.


Of course, these 5 guidelines can only give you a general reference. There are many situations that a spring tea might carry a winter tea’s characters. For example, a very lightly roasted spring Wuyi oolong tea might also carry an aroma that doesn’t dissolve into the tea soup.


Finding a good tea is all about knowing the details.

Although we’ve discussed a lot about spring and winter harvests, the purpose of this blog is not to encourage or discourage tea lovers to drink only spring or winter harvests.


By introducing the differences between spring and winter harvests, we hope tea lovers can understand that there are many quality grades for the same tea produced by the same tea maker from the same tea mountain.


Finding a good tea is all about knowing the details. When you purchase teas from a tea shop, remember to ask specific questions such as whether it’s a spring harvest or a winter harvest.


We 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!


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