Rainfall and Tea

Rain is essential to any crop, and tea is no exception. Too little and too much or at the wrong or right time all affect the taste and overall quality of the tea leaves. It’s all part of the whole terroir concept.

“Terroir” (pronounced “tare-wahr”) according to one web site is “the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat and tea.” (Like “sommelier,” tea folk have adopted a term from the wine industry.)

So, how hot or cold it gets, how rainy or dry it is, how sunny or cloudy it is, what the soil is like, and so on can affect the tea leaves, making them grow faster or slower, helping certain elements in them develop more, etc.

Some examples (click on picture to get details – if they are missing, please let us know since WordPress often drops them when posting articles):

Too Much Rain

Flooding. Rather obvious, but some folks think of all tea gardens as being on slopes, not flat land, and therefore having to worry about mudslides (which they often do get when there is too much rain falling too fast. However, tea gardens in Dooars, Terai, Assam, and Nilgiri can be more level and therefore more prone to flooding, which can be due to direct rainfall and to rivers overflowing their banks.

In June of this year, about 30 tea estates were under water in Terai and Dooars, with even the roads being impassable, due to both heavy rainfall and rivers overflowing. Result: no plucking and processing of tea leaves and therefore a huge financial loss.

One garden manager said harvest was down from the usual average of 30,000kg of tea leaves to around 6,000kg per day. And after the waters recede, they can’t resume harvest for about three weeks. Workers are often directly affected, too, since their quarters are often flooded, too, and there might be an outbreak of water-born diseases. Processed tea leaves are often left sitting in the tea factories and cannot be transported to market; when they do finally get to market, they fetch much lower prices. If they get wet, they will be sold at a lower price or even be a total loss.

Too Little Rain

In April of this year, the Darjeeling area and parts of Dooars in India were having a dry spell, getting only about two inches of rain instead of their usual 10 inches. The result was a drop in crop size as well as quality. The lower quality resulted in a drop in price at auction despite the high demand and low quantity. Not all of the Darjeeling gardens were affected, so there were some good First Flush teas available, commanding higher prices. Some of these got snatched up quickly by vendors in Europe, especially Germany. Quite a scramble!

Climate Change believers think we are destroying the tea industry due to these erratic weather conditions, claiming they are caused by us having cars and air conditioning. In reality, these people and others are wreaking havoc through interference in tea garden management, forcing higher wages that can’t be met (a tea garden owner was hung by workers since he couldn’t pay those wages due to prices at market falling) and things such as medical, schooling, and housing being provided at the garden owners’ expense. Tea gardens have been shutting down or reducing acreage planted.

As for the rainfall, it has a lot to do with the Himalayas. Mists shroud the mountains, creating shade from the sun as well as a cooler, moister climate. This tends to slow down growth a little (like those tea fields in Japan that are shaded for making gyokuro and matcha) and affects the chemistry in the leaves. Those mountains also keep away the rains from the Darjeeling tea gardens so badly needed at the right time and in the right amounts or dumping too much on them and drowning the tea plant roots (in spite of the sloping terrain). They shake and rattle, since these mountains sit on a fault line, and cause destruction, as they did in Nepal but fortunately not where the tea gardens are in the Western half of the country.

So, before jumping to conclusions, look at the natural planet forces around us. And let us all hope that the right amount of rain falls in the right places for tea and other essential crops.

Happy sipping, all!

© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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