The method used to harvest tea leaves is more significant in the production of tea than might be expected. The method of picking the leaves from the tea plant has the potential to change the chemical properties of the finished tea product. This is mostly due to oxidation that occurs when the picked leaves become bruised. For this reason, teas like Green and White must be picked with great care.
The type of leaves being picked also contributes to the properties of the finished tea product. Young leaves are the most desirable leaves for making teas. The bud and the first few leaves are the most prominently picked leaves for tea production. These are the tender leaves. These young leaves have are more potent with the nutrients and chemicals that are desired and necessary for making quality tea and achieving the best tastes. The lower, more brittle, leaves of the tea plant lack the desired nutrients and produce less desired flavor. These leaves are left untouched to support the plant with energy for its future new growth.
In addition to hand picking, there is machine picking. Machine picked leaves are most commonly used in mass marketed teas and are less gentle and specific in their harvesting of tea leaves. This results in a less uniformed flavor in the finished tea product. However, machines are constantly being refined in order to eliminate the undesired effects of machine picking.
Tea leaves harvested at different times of the year also produce different flavors of tea. A single tea plant has the potential to be harvested multiple times a year. The number of harvests of a single plant in a given year effects the levels of nutrients built up into the new growth of the plant for when it is finally harvested. One harvest a year results in a more flavorful and rich tea. However, the number of potential harvests is effected mostly by growing conditions. The better the growing conditions, the more harvests a tea plant can offer.
The way in which the time of year effects the harvest is due to fluctuations in the regional climate conditions. Some times of year are more favorable for the harvest of certain types of tea such the high grade Japanese Green tea Gyokuro, which is usually only harvested in early Spring. The quality of this tea is often considered to be higher due to it being the first harvest after the cooler, dormant, winter season, during which the dormant plant is able to build up nutrients. Different regions have differently timed dormant seasons and therefore differently timed first harvests.
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