Tea and Terroir: what gives tea its unique characteristics? Topography?

11 Apr

Wow! Where did the last week go? Sometimes in a small business there just aren’t enough hands on deck, hours in the day or days in the week! Well, this week was one of those so apologies for my delay in posting the next part of the Tea and Terroir blog. A little delayed, but here you go…

So we’ve already learnt that climate plays a huge part in the magic of a tea’s unique characteristics, but what else plays a part?

Topography (the relief of the land) – in a nutshell this takes into account how the altitude and latitude (the degree of the slope of the mountain) of a particular place determine the tea garden’s exposure to wind, rain, frost, sunshine, shade and drainage.

Having recently been to Sri Lanka I have been lucky enough to experience the diverse climate and topography and therefore flavour and characteristics of its tea, first hand. I loved chatting to the wonderful Herman, owner of the tropical Handunugoda tea estate, about Sri Lanka’s unique topography and how it determines how their tea is grown and therefore, how it tastes.

IMG_0173

 

Herman explained that Sri Lankan teas are not classified by season or climate but instead by elevations: low, mid and high-grown tea. Each elevation lends itself to unique flavours and characteristics – mellow and rich low-grown, aromatic citrusy mid-grown and intense high-grown – and even price point!

In the high mountain tea growing areas, the native China tea bush, the Camellia Sinensis, flourishes even on incredibly steep slopes as high as almost 8000 feet. At this height the thin air slows the leaf growth. This growth is focused around an optimum picking period so their yield is half that of the tea bushes grown in the much lower tropical tea gardens.

Sri Lanka tea

In the tropical Southern tea growing parts of the island where Herman’s beautiful estate is, the tea bush flourishes more consistently all year round and produces a more mellow and rich flavour and the teas are easier to harvest.

The lower yields, coupled with the difficulty in harvesting the tea in the highlands lead to a more intense flavour and a much higher price point for the high elevation teas.

Next time, the final focus will be on geology and terroir.

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