Sunday, August 26, 2012

Picking tea

I have spent a large part of summer in the tea mountains of Xishuangbanna. Part of a tea farmer's life is filled by tea picking, I tried it for a week, while a friend and I were trying different black tea processing. We had to harvest those nice natural tea gardens, formerly conventional plantations (Taidi Cha 台地茶).

On Jingmai mountain, it has been decided to prohibit the use of insecticide and chemical fertilizer, and restrict the use of herbicide. In order to avoid massive pest invasion, the number of tea trees per hectare must be severely reduced (four trees out of five have been cut), the tea trees are now at least two meters far from each other. Shade trees are to be planted in order to host natural predators and improve the tea quality.

The locals can pick tea at lighting speed, according to them, it takes one month of training to reach the right pace. My picking speed was slow and, at the end of the day, my bag was very light compared to theirs. I find pretty hard to see the buds on the tea tree, that's why i couldn't pick the tea faster, I had to look at the tree, pick a few buds and leaves, and look again.
one bud one leaf

 The experienced picker can do both at the same time and use two hands to pick, it sounds easy but it's not, because if you press to hard on the branches, they will swing and it will be impossible to get all the buds very quickly. Picking tea is harder than expected, especially when there is no picking table at the top of the tree. I understand now, why it takes so much time to harvest the ancient tea gardens: the ground is steep, the trees are scattered and you have to climb on some of the trees.

In Jingmai mountain, there are two main species of trees: big leaf varietal and small-medium leaf. In reality, there is an important variation between the leaf shape of each tea tree. On some trees, they are round shaped, on others, they are longer and narrower, shaped like a boat. This explains the large diversity of leaves in the cakes, and it does not necessarily reveals a blended cake.

I was very happy to hike in the tea mountains again, and i learned a lot of new things about tea agriculture. I am a happy man forever!

a happy man!


  1. Must have been a great experience ! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    And good news about the end of the use of insecticide and chemical fertilizer ! This will surely lead to better tea in the end.

  2. Hello David,
    I agree with you, restricting the use of agrochemicals will surely lead to a better tea and will increase the local's revenue, yield is much lower but tea from natural tea gardens is much more expensive than Taidi Cha. When the shade trees will grow up, it will make the mountain very attractive for tourists. Welcome to Jingmai!

  3. Your tea is also universally red at the spot where you picked - seems like you bruised the tea more than a skilled picker would. Of course, none of us would be any good at it unless we've spent weeks (months? years?) practicing.

  4. Hello MarshalN,
    Sure there is a lot to learn to be a skilled tea picker, the trickiest for me was to know whether or not to pick the older leaves, even while harvesting 1 leaf/1 bud, you should only select the most tender leaves, but there is not obvious gap between tender and too old, some of the leaves in the bag are a bit too big compared to the majority.