A Guide to Understanding Tea Terroir
You typically think that the aroma and flavor of tea comes from the type of tea you drink be it green, black, oolong, and so on.
You typically think that the aroma and flavor comes from the curing method be it orthodox or curing, tearing, crushing (CTC).
You typically think that the aroma and flavor of tea comes from the country where the tea plant is grown and processed be it India, China, Japan, the US and so on.
But what tea connoisseurs know is that the aroma and flavor of tea is actually based on terroir.
At its most basic, tea terroir is the physical and biotic environment surrounding and affecting a tea plant.
Huh? What does that mean?
Allow me to explain…
Let’s get physical about tea terroir
Rocky soil, poor soil, rich soil, too much rain, not enough rain, just-the-right-amount of rain, long hours of intense sunlight, early morning fog, filtered sunlight, wind, cold, and heat are the physical environment for tea terroir. Each of these physical components, found in a tea plant’s terroir, affect the aroma and flavor of tea.
For example, a tea plant grown in rocky soil will have more available minerals to take up through its roots than one grown in rich, loamy soil. Minerals make a strong plant able to produce tea for many years giving a strong, robust flavor to tea. Zinc deficiencies in soil produce yellow curling tea leaves.
Another example is sunlight and the amount a plant receives each day. Just-the-right-amount of sunlight allows the plant to convert the sun’s energy into chlorophyll. Shiny, green healthy tea leaves give green tea its bright flavor and grassy smell.
It’s all about biotics for tea terroir
Worms, woodland and forest animals, insects, people, and neighboring plants are the biotic environment for tea terroir. Each of these biotic components, found in a tea plant’s terroir, affect the aroma and flavor of tea.
For example, the Chinese rose beetle eats a lacy pattern into tea leaves, which weakens the tea plant. The lacy holes in leaves means less chlorophyll production and results in less energy for new growth and tasty tea. The Chinese rose beetle also likes bamboo, which if planted next to tea plants will attract the beetle to chew its leaves instead of the tea plant. The bamboo, through leaf litter around the tea plants, can change the terroir through the soil and ultimately, the aroma and flavor of the tea.
Another biotic example of terroir is humans. Picking leaves forces the tea plant to grow more leaves. Since growing leaves is the tea plant’s job, it will grow more leaves. Aroma and flavor are affected by the timing of the tea leaf picking, such as picking at ten or thirty percent leaf growth.
Tea terroir – the physical and biotic environment for tea plants.
The next time you brew a cup of tea, think about the terroir the tea leaves were grown in as you smell the aroma and taste the flavor.