Growing and picking tea require much attention and determine the ultimate quality of tea.
From breeding plants in nurseries to shipping the finished product, every step in the process takes place in the plantation.
On slopes which sometimes exceed a 45° angle, no machine can ever replace human labour. Harvesting is therefore a decisive manual operation most of the time.
A tea bush produces usable leaves only from the third year onwards. Harvesting –
the technical term is ‘flushing’ – takes place three times a year. In the spring,
the "first flush" (the most vivacious), takes place from mid-April to the end of May.
The “second flush” harvest takes place from June to the end of the summer.
Second flush tea is more aromatic and rounder. Finally, in autumn, around November and December, a final harvest takes place. Some major tea plantations harvest only a few days a year. This is the case for ‘silver needles’, a rare and particularly prized China tea.
There are three types of picking. The pick from the tea bush will determine the quality of tea.
Women, who are often in charge of these harvests, take either the end bud and nearest leaf from the plant – a form known as 'imperial' picking – or the end and two neighbouring leaves – known as ‘fine’ picking. They can also harvest the bud and the three or four following leaves, a less delicate form known as ‘classical’.
Imperial picking has grown very rare. In the past, it was the preserve of the Emperor, where leaves were delicately cut with golden scissors by virgins wearing white gloves. “Fine" or “royal” picking was ennobled thanks to the Dutch royal family in the 17th century. The Dutch East India Company imported this form of harvesting at the time for the royal house of Orange. The result then took the name of "Orange Pekoe".