Tea production is agricultural, which means it must follow certain natural rules to be sustainable. But unlike many other essential food production, such as wheat, tea production is limited to a few areas.
But this is not the only reason why tea production is limited. Tea plants are not machines, and they cannot work overtime. Normally, high quality teas are only harvested in spring. Harvesting in other seasons would be considered as “overworking the tea plant”. Over-harvesting tea plants is no different than killing the goose that laid golden eggs.
Due to the limitations, the total production of tea always has a cap. This is why historically tea has been a luxury enjoyment.
Interestingly, the best way to boost the quality and the production of tea plants is to spend more time on enhancing the tea growing environment, and not do multiple harvests per year.
Those tea fields that occupy the entire mountain often lack of the essential bio-diversity to produce good quality fresh leaves and preserve the soil. In our previous blog, we’ve introduced that a good tea mountain field looks “disorganized”. (Please see Blog 8 for more.) Despite looked “messy”, we still “design” our tea fields to protect our tea plants and improve the sustainability of our tea mountains.
If you walk into our tea fields, you’d notice that there’re quite some taller plants serving as a shade and a shelter belt. They are usually planted around the perimeter or inside the field. The common shelter plants we choose are chestnut trees, sweet osmanthus trees, peach trees and pines. These trees have sturdier wood that suffer fewer insect attacks.
The purpose of the shelter plants is to protect tea plants from frostbites, reduce surface runoff, increase soil moisture and nutrients, shield tea plants from direct sunlight, and increase diffuse reflection in the tea field. With more diffuse reflection, tea plants can generate more nitrogen substances. This helps tea plants sprout more fresh leaves.
According to our research, under the shade of 30% to 40%, tea plants accumulate more organics. At the same time, the level of carbon and nitrogen metabolism, saccharides, polyphenols, caffeine, and amino acids reaches a more desired balance.
Besides the “shelter belt”, we also encourage the presence of “greens” on the ground. This is actually a type of soil management. The key to a healthy tea field is that the soil can regain the nutrients it supplied to tea plants. If the soil is exposed, it’s highly possible that its nutrients get washed away. Having some greens, such as short grass or moss can greatly improve soil’s ability to lock and retain nutrients.
Finally, a thriving tea growing environment needs a good water conservancy condition. Water is necessary for photosynthesis, but water can be detrimental to the tea field if it’s not in the right place. As we discussed earlier, if water flows on the surface of the soil, it washes nutrients away. In practice, we prefer a small creek that flows through or next to the field. In addition to being a stable water supply, a small creek can effectively change the small climate in the tea field, lower the ground temperature, increase the ground moisture. Fresh tea leaves that grow in this environment are tenderer than those grow on the mountainside.
Surviving is different than living. People can survive with just certain amount of water and food. But this is not living. To live longer and better, we need quality shelter, nutritions, education… and so on. Tea is the same. A tea plant can survive and grow leaves in just anywhere. However, to produce quality leaves, tea plants need a carefully managed and maintained environment.
As a tea maker, we care about the amount of tea we can produce, and we care even more about the quality of our tea. To balance both demands, instead of just boosting the number of harvests, we choose to put more thoughts and works into our tea mountains. Hopefully this blog can provide you some special insight to our tea mountain management.
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