How many harvest seasons are there in Taiwan? Are there any differences in regards to quality or flavor of the teas?
Most Oolong teas in Taiwan are harvested 3-6 times a year, depending on the farming methods practiced and the elevation of the tea farm. Tea farms above 1500m will often only harvest 3 times a year, and some lower elevations also, in the attempt to maximize the quality potential rather than quantity. Our Four Seasons Spring selection is a perfect example of this. At low elevation it is possible to harvest 6 times annually, but this farmer is committed to sustainability on both an environmental/farming level and in a value-added product level. He sees the wisdom of producing less tea at a significantly higher quality to maximize the sustainability of his farming and tea producing practice.
In Taiwan, spring and winter teas are valued most for Oolong tea, and late spring- early fall for Black tea. Some teas, like Dong Ding require a significant amount of time post harvest for extensive roasting. So typically, roasted teas are not available for at least one month following their harvest date. Unroasted Oolong teas are ready for sale within a few days of being harvested. In general, spring harvest runs from March through May, winter harvest runs from October through December. Summer and fall of course are in between, but vary depending on the farming practice and elevation.
In Taiwan, the variations in character and quality of tea throughout the year are more obvious at higher elevations. The highest elevation farms only produce two harvests a year, while the majority of farms in Taiwan yield at least four harvests annually. Traditionally, these seasonal variations are fairly distinct, but in recent years climate change has blurred these distinctions somewhat.
Generally, most unroasted teas are fairly consistent from season to season. The roasted teas have the most variation, as each batch roasted can be quite different.
To keep it simple, we’ll only mention the classic differences in flavor here for a standard reference.
Known for its distinct floral aroma and a subtle sweetness in flavor. This is seemingly due to the new season of growth and reproductive phase of the plant after its winter dormant phase.
Has a tendency to be more astringent as a result of the peak annual vegetation phase of the plant and hotter weather in summer months. If the oxidation of the leaves during processing is done well, this quality can offer a distinct character to the flavor. Summer tea can also be less substantial in its composition of flavor, especially if has been an unusually rainy season.
Often has a more distinct bitter quality. This also can be a positive factor if the leaves are processed in a way that provides balance in the composition of qualities.
Known for its more full-bodied character and viscosity in texture. This results from a slower growth phase and colder temperatures during the growing season.