Friday, April 12, 2013

Terroir and Tea

What is terroir? 
Terroir is a French loanword.
The exact definition is as follows - A " terroir " is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.

The term originates from the wine industry however is applied to specific agricultural commodities as well - such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, cannabis, and tea.
Terroir has a set of inherent characteristics - geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant's genetics.
Terroir expresses the sense of a place.
This "sense of a place" embodies certain characteristic qualities - the total effects that the local environment has on a certain agricultural product. 
 At its core is the assumption that the land from which the particular agricultural commodity is grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that region.
The concept is a crystallization of the unique aspects of a place that influences and shapes the growth and final yield of the product.

What are the elements of terroir in the tea industry?
 The components of terroir are climate - macro, meso and micro climatic conditions - rain, mist, moisture; soil type - mineral compositions, drainage and temperature; topograhy - altitude, landscape, mountain ranges, valleys, rivers, lakes; fauna, flora - other plants that grow in the surrounding, insects and human intervention - harvesting, processing.

Tea industry's terroir
 Within the tea industry this concepts pertain to teas.
Soil, local climate, altitude, and tree age all affect the flavor of the tea plants. 
Certain teas like the High Mountain Oolongs particularly from the region of Taiwan - Alishan Mountain are greatly sought after among tea connoisseurs.
 Among the puer and aged teas, age of the trees as well as the fauna and flora that grows in the surrounding area greatly influences the final product.
Tea leaves are usually harvested at the break of dawn, when the dew is on the ground and the mist is still covering like a blanket.
At this point is when the tea leaves are budding, awakening and growing.
The flavor is greatly influenced by the morning moisture and the sun has yet to heat up the essential oils on these fine tips.
Tea grows best and always has grown on higher elevations.
The mist, dew - the moisture component shields these tea plants from the sun's heat and causes the growth and maturing of these tea plants to be more slow.
Certain tea gardens in Japan actually cover the tea plants so as to create a special flavor within the leaves.

Tea Growing Regions and Elevations
Tea grows best in misty, rainy regions at altitudes of 2,000 to 7,000 feet in the tropics and lower elevations in temperate regions.
 The best tea is produced in regions that have dry days and cool nights.
Slow growth under some stress brings out the best flavor in tea but yields are lower under these conditions.
  • Assam, a high plateau in northern India which straddles the Brahmaputra River, is the largest tea-growing region in the world.

  • Darjeeling, on the southern slopes of the Himalayas in northeast India, is the tea region par excellence.  Darjeeling teas are cultivated at splendid altitudes of 800–2000 meters, and it is the highest tea gardens that usually produce the best quality tea. Tea gardens are at elevations between 1,200 to 2,000 meters. The average temperature in this region is between 12 and 23 degrees Celsius. Annual rainfall in the area is between 1,000 and 2,000 mm.

  •  Yunnan Province - China, tea grows on high mountains that are covered by mist with rich soil. Yunnan province is located in the Southwestern corner of China. It shares borders with Tibet, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. The province is crossed by the Tropic of Cancer. Its elevation ranges from the Honghe River valley at 76 meters to Kawagebo Peak which has an elevation of 6,700 meters.
  • Alishan Mountain - Taiwan, grown in the Alishan area of Chiayi County. The tea has large rolled leaves that have a purple-green appearance when dry. It is grown at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,400 metres. There is only a short period during the growing season when the sun is strong, which results in a sweeter and less astringent brew. It produces a golden yellow tea which has a unique fruity aroma
Teas that grown on mountains covered by mists

Wild Ti Kwan Yin Oolong
 Fujian Province 
Grown on the mist-shrouded hilltops in the Fujian Province.
The leaves are plucked once a year during Spring.
 This is a wild tea growth, that is uncultivated.
Watered naturally in part by mist.
The tea is floral, green, fruity, and honey tasting and smelling with a color similar to champagne.
The trees are rather inaccessible and thus spurred the legend of monkeys picking the leaves. 

Cloud and Mist “Yun Wu”
 Jiangxi Province in China
 Mellow taste, and nutritious 
 First cultivated in the 2nd century by Buddhist monks.
Picked from wild plants by locals. 
 130 acres of tea plants scattered in patches on the hillsides. 
Harvesting starts, with only one shoot of one leaf being plucked. 
These are air-dried for 4-5 hours.
Then rolled between the palms of the workers’ hands, roasted, rolled again, and roasted again. 
This is all done very careful to avoid leaf breakage, a sign of a very high quality tea.  

Xin Yang Mo (Mao) Jian 
Dates back to the Tang dynasty, this tea is from Henan Province, the Xin Yang prefecture, China. 
 The leaves are processed into fine, taut strips and steep up a chestnut flavored liquid. 
Hand-processed by skilled workers using practiced motions to roll the leaves while they adjust the heat. 

Pi Lo Chun / Bi Luo Chun “Spiral of Spring Jade” or “Green Snail Spring”
  Comes from the Dong Ting Mountains which are often enshrouded in mist, keeping the young tea leaves very moist. 
This moisture contributes to the flavor, has a plum, peach, and apricot flavor as these trees are grown among the tea plants. 

Long Jing 
It owes a lot to the unique natural condition in the growing areas.
 The geography of this area staves off cold current from the north and holds back warm current from the south, thus forming cloud and mist over the tea growing area. 
This keeps the tea trees under diffused light and ultraviolet rays most of the time, and this stimulates synthesis and the accumulation of aromatic substances and amino acids in the tea. 

Formosa Oolong
Steep mountain peaks enshrouded in clouds and mist.
 Has an intoxicatingly fragrant and floral taste. 
They are usually lightly oxidized and retain their signature “green fragrance” (qing xiang).

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