|Terroir of Tea-The Magic of "Place" on
|The Camellia sinensis or tea plant is grown in dozens of countries around the
world and is processed into six main types of tea - black tea, green tea, white
tea, oolong, yellow, and pu-erh. And even when taking into account the many
different manufacturing styles, why does an oolong tea grown in similar condi-
tions in China, and let's say, Taiwan, which is just a hop, skip, and jump away,
across the narrow Taiwan Strait, taste totally different?
|Both countries use similar manufacturing methods.
In fact, today many Taiwanese residents are actu-
ally Chinese immigrants who learned how to make
tea in their native China. So, if you were to com-
pare a tieguanyin oolong from China, with a Tai-
wanese tieguanyin, you'd expect them to taste
pretty much the same, right?
Presumably yes, but they don't and the reason
they don't is because of their terroir.
terr-WARH) is a French
term that comes from
the word terre (mean-
ing "land"), originally
developed by the
|French wine industry to describe the impact that a growing location
and type of plant has on the final flavor of a given food or beverage.
It is now applied to the tea, coffee, and chocolate industries worldwide.
As it applies to tea, I like to think of terroir as the "magic of
place," with all the factors coming together to determine tea's
growth and character.
While there remains major disagreement all around on what
exactly terroir is, there is a general consensus that a good over-
all description is that it's "those natural elements generally
considered to be beyond the control of humans."
These natural elements determine the final
product, the flavor, character, the amount of
vital vitamins, minerals, and other healthy
compounds contained in the leaf, and even
the cost of your daily cup of tea. These fact-
ors of terroir include the following:
Climate - aspects of climate include the temp-
erature and amounts of sun, wind, and rain
affecting teas growth. The tropical paradise
of Sri Lanka is roughly the size of Indiana, yet
it's the World's fourth largest tea producer.
With its near perfect climate of sun, wind, and
rain, tea grows abundantly there year round.
Another very different aspect of climate
affects Uva, a high-grown region in eastern Sri
Lanka, that experiences dry Cachan winds from
July to September. The hot, dry Cachan winds
cause the tea bushes to react as though from
draught, closing up their leaves. This also initiates
an internal change within the cells of the leaves to replace lost moisture.
The teas produced during this period are especially flavorful and
command higher prices, all due to the unique climate or terrior of
Uva. No where else on earth will you find the exact set of
Topography (Relief) - the topography of a place is the altitude
and degree of slope of a particular location, determining its
exposure to weather, hours of sunlight, shade, and drainage. In
the case of Darjeeling tea, its terroir is not only responsible for the flavor and character, but its
high cost as well.
The Himalayan Mountains, home to India's Darjeeling tea is one of
the highest altitude tea growing regions in the world. There the
native China tea bush flourishes at elevations ranging from 1,800
feet in the foothills, to nearly 8,500 feet at Tiger Hill.
In the higher elevations cool, thin air slows leaf growth and matur-
ation, yielding half that of leaf grown in lower, more temperate elevations. Together with steep
slopes, some as much as 60 to 70 degrees, Darjeeling's topography is
directly responsible for the lower yields and difficulty harvesting tea, and
the resulting high production costs reflected at the register.
Once again we look at Sri Lanka and their unique topography which is
the base from which their tea is grown, determined not by season or
even climate, but rather by elevation with three distinct tea types:
low-grown, mid-grown, and high-grown teas, with each elevation
lending itself to its own unique character and flavor profile.
Geology - these are the physical properties of the soil and the rocks
from which it's made. The make-up of the soil is important, especially in
regard to the amount of water received and drainage abilities.
The Wuyi shan region in China's northwestern Fujian Province looks
like it's straight out of a fairy tale with tall, rocky limestone peaks,
winding rivers, and lush vegetation, with steep, winding roads and
sheer cliffs. High atop the limestone peaks the tea bushes are
heavily shaded by clouds and mist, with only a few hours of sunlight
This is home to Wuyi shan "rock teas" or "cliff teas," so called for the thin layer of soil anchoring
the tea bushes. The thin rocky soil contains vital minerals and nutrients that give these teas
unique flavor, making them famous for providing vitality and good health to all who drink them.
Wuyi shan teas are precious and rare, grown in a 35 to 40 mile area whose terroir can never be
duplicated anywhere else in the world.
| There is much more that goes into what terroir is, but looking at the big picture, think
of it as the part that "place" plays in the making and growth of tea. It is why a green
tea from Japan differs so much from a Chinese green tea, after eliminating all human
components, such as differences in manufacturing, plucking styles, and types of tea
As mentioned earlier, terroir is all those natural elements that go into the tea before it
undergoes any type of human intervention. It is the rich, red volcanic soil in Kenya, the
crisp, clean mountain air in Nepal, and the hot, dry Cachan winds of Sri Lanka. It is the uniqueness of place that goes
into growing and producing the most flavorful teas from all around the world. Enjoy.
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