What to Expect from the 2018 Spring Tea Harvest

 A picker at Nepal's Jun Chiyabari tea estate.

A picker at Nepal's Jun Chiyabari tea estate.

The spring harvest across Asia has taken place, and as summer arrives, we’re making final decisions about which teas to add to this year's collection. As part of that process, we’ve been chatting with our partner farmers about this harvest and what developments they’ve observed in the field. Here is our tea farmers' exclusive, inside look at 2018:

Erratic weather is producing erratic tea

In Fujian, China, one farmer tells us how unusually cold spring weather damaged spring tea buds with frost, and that significant high temperatures afterward grew first and second leaves too large to be picked. In India, Assam and Darjeeling struggled with droughts, which reduced yields and in some cases made for lower quality tea. Several producers report that normally premium lots of tea turned out coarse and less delicate than in years past. But their prices will likely remain put: supply is low and demand is high, especially for Darjeeling, which is still recovering from low output last year due to worker strikes. This means we’ll be paying special attention to teas from these regions to find the best quality for our dollar.

Severe drought usually produces bad tea, but sometimes adverse weather and its subsequent reduced plant growth makes for more nutrient-dense leaves with bolder flavors. Several Taiwanese farmers we work with are seeing smaller yields thanks to unseasonably warm and dry weather. But unlike in India, the tea has improved over last spring. One farmer says this year’s harvest has produced the best tea he’s had in recent memory. 

The market is growing wider and weirder

Fragrant, buttery greenish oolongs remain the heart of the Taiwanese tea market, but one farmer tells us that he's noticed a surprising resurgence of public interest in roasted and more heavily oxidized teas such as Oriental Beauty, which hew to the traditional styles that originally put Taiwan on the map. We’ve also seen more farmers here experimenting with black and green styles to expand their selection to new buyers. Beyond widening offerings, this is a handy way to make the most of fresh leaves that, for whatever reason, wouldn’t be prime candidates for the originally intended oolong. There is similar trend in Yunnan, where leaves typically destined for pu-erh are being processed as white and black teas.

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Meanwhile in Japan, our friends report that matcha continues to be the darling of the market—“the boom of the matcha,” as one phrases it. This farmer will be releasing an organic yuzu-flavored matcha in the fall.

The web yields wider access but tougher sales

Here’s an interesting perspective from one of our farmers in Assam: “With the internet, prices are readily available to everybody—but not the [tea's] quality profile, which makes it harder to make people understand that even though several teas may come from the same garden, each lot is separate, and hence a separate price [based] upon quality.” For farmers seeking more online sales, internet shopping can be a double-edged sword: You’re only as good as your weakest tea, but with so much competition out there, it’s challenging to set your best lots at the prices they deserve. 

This is really an issue for wholesale buyers like us, rather than individual consumers like you, but it’s a poignant reminder that no matter how strong a farm's reputation may be, every batch must be tasted to ensure it’s up to snuff.

This is one reason we take our time selecting new teas, and why some spring harvests may not hit our website until late summer. For now, try our fresh 2018 lot of Darjeeling 1st Flush, Muscatel Valley. We’re in love with its silky texture, rich hazelnut aroma, and spicy orange and allspice finish. 

Sebastian Beckwith