Category Archives: agriculture

Tea Farming: Raise it Right

The camellia sinensis (tea) plant requires some specific care and conditions. As long it is the same plant and the soil condition is good, the nutrition value will not differ too greatly. Depending, however, on the flavor profiles you are going for, the environment and care will affect this.

For a tea plant/seed to really root itself into the soil, it takes about 3-5 years. If you rush it, tea can grow in the first couple years as well. However, this will not give the plant a chance to get a firm foundation.

This is what happened to a lot of tea fields in Korea a few years ago when the long, harsh winter hit – a lot of the plants were uprooted from the snow and strong winds. Those farmers that took the time to plant the seeds and wait patiently for the leaves to grow at its proper pace truly reaped what they sowed.

Tea plants generally grow in regions which have a definite winter (cold) and summer (hot). The most desirable condition would be a region that has a definite “four seasons”. If you desire leaves that produce a more rich, full flavor, the ground on which it grows needs to get cold enough (without freezing) and then, gradually in time, needs to warm up.

In Korea, most of its tea is produced mainly in the southern regions for this particular reason. The northern regions get too cold in the winter (below freezing) and the plants/roots cannot survive. Regions that don’t get cold enough or get too warm (like the Jeju Islands) may produce teas that taste a bit lighter or less rich in flavor. If you prefer lighter flavor tones, seek after teas from such warmer regions. 

The region in which the fields are located also play a vital role in the final taste. The most ideal location would be either near oceans or near mountains. The reason for this is that, like most other agricultural products, the right balance of exposure to sunlight and shade is important. Too much sun will cause the leaves to either grow too quickly or dry and wither. Not enough sun will cause the leaves to not grow at its proper pace and cause lack of some of its nutritional components.

Having the tea field near an ocean allows the morning dew and fog to create a natural “barricade” for the leaves from the sun’s harsh rays. As the day progresses, this “mist” collects, allowing for the leaves to get the proper amount of exposure of sunlight. Having the tea field near a mountain, or tall hill, will allow the mountain/hill to create a natural shade for a portion of each day.

If these natural conditions cannot be met, some will also use mesh nets to create human-made shading for the leaves. Carefully attention is necessary to make sure that the leaves receive the right balance of sun and shade to produce desired flavor profiles and nutritional values.

All in all, the right combination of environment, condition and farming techniques are needed to produce the desired flavor and aroma. No matter how well you might process the leaves, if the basic foundation is not there, it would be difficult to get the results you want.


Tea Farming: Divide by 24

As with many things in life, “timing” is very important when it comes to farming.

There is a time and season for everything – finding the most ideal location, preparing the soil, planting the seed, providing the proper care and environment, and harvesting. Depending on what you plan on growing, there will be more or less time and effort required on certain steps. The amount of “proper” care will determine the final outcome of the finished product.

Lunar Calendar vs. Western Calendar?

Many Asian countries follow the Lunar calendar for many things – farming is one of those things. The Lunar calendar calculates the distance of the sun from earth to calculate the coming of seasons, and because the seasons don’t always fall on the specific dates (as with the Western calendar), it makes more sense to follow the Lunar calendar.

According to the Lunar calendar, there are 24 seasonal division (2 seasonal divisions in each month). Visit Wikipedia for more information about this.

Tea picking season starts with Gokwoo (곡우).

Gokwoo is the 6th of the 24 seasonal divisions, falling on the 20th or 21st of April. This is the rainfall for seeding. (In Hanja, gok stands for gok-shik, meaning “grain”; woo represents rain; literally translation meaning “grain rain”.)

As mentioned in my previous post about tea grades in Korea, the Ujeon or Woojeon grade (the first shooting buds – a very special grade) is picked just before Gokwoo (u or woo = rain;, jeon =before).

Ibha (입하) is the 7th of the 24 seasonal divisions, falling on the 5th or 6th of May. Sejak grade (the delicate leaves and bud at the tip) is picked right before and after this time (immediately after the Ujeon grade). (In Hanjaib stands for “entrance” or “enter”; ha  means “summer”; literally translation meaning “enter summer”, indicating the beginning of summer.)

Somahn (소만), Mang-jong (만종) and Haji (하지) follow.

The Joongjak grade (more full-grown leaves) is picked after Sejak and is picked all the way up to Haji (also known as “Summer Solstice”), which is the 10th of the 24 seasonal divisions, falling on the 20th or 21st of June. (In Hanja, ha means “summer” and ji means “reaching”, indicating the peak of summer.)

Following Haji is Sohsuh (소서), Daesuh (대서) and Ipchu (입추). These are the seasonal divisions leading into fall/autumn (Ipchu meaning “enter fall/autumn”). Depending on the company/farmer, tea leaves will be harvested all the way into the beginning of fall.

Again, depending on the company or farmer, the way someone grades tea in Korea will slightly differ. Some will grade solely on size, others solely on the time harvested – most use a combination of the two (especially with the currently fickle weather).

Knowing both the size reference and harvest time will help determine what kind of grade of tea you are getting in Korea. Also, knowing the general processing method of green tea will also help in choosing the “right tea” for you.

Coming soon…
Tea Farming: Raise it Right

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