When to buy Tea?
Of course I don’t mean when tea companies have sales but when the leaves are in season. I read from “The Tea Enthusiast Handbook” that one should buy green tea around March which is close to spring. When does everyone here buy their tea? What month is good to buy oolong, I’m actually interested in trying that this year.
It’s a complicated question, believe it or not. So, part 1 of the question involves when tea is best picked and processed. Generally speaking, early spring is considered best for many tea types, but this is not a hard and fast rule. And, an excellent product from a mid-summer harvest may well be hands-down superior to a lower-grade product from early spring. But, comparing apples to apples, earlier is typically better. However, many teas are actually quite excellent (or even better) when made from later harvests.
So, yes, early spring “tends” to produce a better product for many teas, but it is not inherently superior for all teas. Also, to your palate, the additional price may not be worth the difference. And finally, because earlier harvests command a higher price, there is more incentive to be less-than-honest about when a leaf was harvested. Since tea usually changes hands several times, this risk increases.
And, this brings us to one of the things that makes this really complicated.
With more delicate (less oxidized) teas, there is a shelf-life consideration. Well, this is a consideration with all teas, but more so with these teas. So, the question is not only when to buy or when the leaves were harvested, but also, how much time has elapsed between those two events.
Many low-end sellers won’t tell you the season and/or year of the tea. (They may not even know themselves.) If they do not, then there is likely very little point in buying at any particular time, since you really have no idea what you are buying. The only real exception is that if you buy … say … right now … you can be reasonably certain you are not buying early-spring tea which has not been sitting in storage for almost a year. Now, you can buy an early-spring product that is almost a year old and, if it has been stored properly and you drink it relatively soon, it will be perfectly fine. (See my point about picking a trustworthy seller below…)
But, this is where it gets difficult. Tea that you buy from a retailer, particularly in the West (but not exclusively) may have been bought and sold several times. Without going into the details of sourcing and wholesaling, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And, it doesn’t necessarily raise the price. (I know that seems counterintuitive.)
So, if you buy too early, you are actually unlikely to get a product that is actually from the current season. It simply hasn’t had enough time to work its way to your retailer yet. Conversely, if you buy too late, you are ensuring that the product isn’t as fresh as it could have been.
In short, as an end-buyer, it doesn’t pay to give too much thought to when you buy tea. It is much better to pay attention to buying from a seller you trust, and let them worry about the issues I raised. At the end of the day, the seller is responsible for delivering the best product possible at a fair price. If you do not trust the seller to do this, other considerations take a back seat anyway.
Great answer!!! Bumping this topic for more!! :)
Regarding Japanese green teas, there is what’s called shincha (new tea). It’s the first flush (in spring) and this teas tend to be quite expensive.
I disagree with Brent here, a first flush green tea has a very distinct flavor, I’m not a tea sommelier but I can tell the difference instantly.
It’s not easy to buy this teas, they aren’t normally sold in most stores. You need a specialized tea vendor, which there are a few online.
Whenever I study, I tend to get distracted and look at random tea sites. I was looking at Lupicia’s teaware, I saw this tea calendar that was linked at the bottom of their sidebar!
I totally remembered this thread when I saw the calendar, but I couldn’t find it in the discussions. Thanks for the bump, and I hope this helps :)