EFFECTS OF TERROIR ON THE QUALITY OF TEA

Terroir - soil
Healthy soil

In similarity to wine grapes, tea bushes too are sensitive to the circumstances, the terroir of their surroundings. Weather conditions, altitude, the farms direct surroundings, soil composition, etc. are features that not only affect the taste and character of the final product, it often also imbues the tea with a distinct local trait; an individuality that only can be obtained at this specific farm. While the approach and convictions of the farmer too of course play a decisive role in the outcome of the tea, it are the natural environmental circumstances of the farm that are grouped under the generic term ‘terroir’; a practice borrowed from the wine culture, and today becoming more widely spread in tea contexts as well.

Environmental factors of terroir

In a separate post I will take the time to expand further on the subject of soil. Here I will briefly discuss a few environmental influencers and how they may affect the growth of the tea bush. The climate of the region affects the bush in either one of two ways. When the bushes grow in a warm climate, their development is rapid, and will produce new buds early on in the year. When the climate is cold, their growth will be tardy, but thanks to the long winters of such environments, the bushes tend to produce more starch in their roots, rendering the final product generally sweeter as compared to warmer areas where the tea tends to grow bitter more easily.

The direct surroundings of the farm also play an important role in the development of the tea bushes. Surrounding forests may obstruct the sunlight on parts of the farm during certain times of the day; a river in the vicinity may produce beneficial dew and mist on the farms, while neighboring farms may enhance the danger of drift of unwanted chemicals or nourishment one not commonly uses on his own bushes.

Environmental terroir

Direct conditions of the farm

In addition to general characteristics of the whole region, each individual farm too proposes aspects that influence the output in one way or another. The expanse of one parcel inevitably influences the amount of produce that can be obtained, while the direction and angle of the garden influences the aspects of drainage and its exposure to sunlight; both aspects that immediately affect the outcome of the tea’s flavor and aroma.

The altitude of the farm is again significant for the climate and temperature at that specific garden. The higher the altitude of the garden, the cooler the climate will be, resulting in similar features as those of tea gardens in cold environments, disabling tea bushes with a weak cold resistance to develop in such environments.

Another factor is the shape and direction of the farm. When a garden is positioned on a mountain flank, the direction of the rows of bushes influences how water and nutrition is maintained or emanated. Vertical ridges allow water to flow downhill alongside the bushes’ roots evenly nourishing the plants, whereas horizontal ridges more easily halt or distort the flow forming a barrier to the water. A consideration as such must always be weighted against the benefits for the producer in terms of ease of labor.

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