Each major tea growing region has its own terminology when it comes to classifying their tea harvesting periods. In Indian and Nepalese tea culture, the different harvests are referred to numerically as flushes. In Taiwan and China, the terminology used is very closely related to the East Asian Lunisolar Calendar. Japan uses a more literal numerical method in naming its harvests.
CHINESE GROWN TEA:
Due to the vastness of the country Chinese teas have the most variation in the time in which they are harvested. The harvest season begins around March and can finish as late as November. The exception to this are teas made from the finer buds and leaves of the plants. These younger teas have a much more specific growing season and will often be harvested on exact dates taken from the East Asian Lunisolar Calendar.
Ming Qian (明前, míng qián, meaning before Qing Ming) - tea picked before Qing Ming festival which falls on April 4th-6th.
Yu Qian (雨前 , yŭ qián, meaning before the rains) - tea picked before the Grain Rain on April 20th.
Ming Qian and Ya Qian are the most highly regarded seasons, however not all Chinese teas adhere to their strict harvest dates. Some Chinese teas are made from more mature leaves and can be harvested anytime between April and November. Wulongs for example such as Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong, are highly sought after due to their quality but are harvested through the Autumn months.
JAPANESE GROWN TEA
Japan’s harvest season also varies by region as well but generally begins in late April and finishes in October. Japan has four main harvest periods:
Shincha (新茶: literally “new tea”): this is the name given to the first harvest of the year.
Ichibancha (一番茶: literally “first tea”) this refers to the entire first harvest season, including Shincha. It typically occurs from late April to May.
Nibancha (二番茶: literally “second tea”) refers to the second harvest of the year, taking place from June to the end of July.
Sanbancha (三番茶: literally “third tea”) refers to the third harvest of the year taking place in August.
Yonbancha (四番茶: literally “fourth tea”) is the fourth harvest of the year; it can take place as late as October in some regions.
DARJEELING AND NEPALESE GROWN TEA:
The Darjeeling and Nepalese harvest periods are the most concise and last from late March to early November. They are broken up into 4 parts: first flush, second flush, monsoon flush, and autumnal flush. At times, the plants will continue to flush past November; this is sometimes called a winter flush.
First Flush: March – April
Second Flush: May – June
Monsoon Flush: July – August
Autumnal Flush: October – November
ASSAM GROWN TEA:
Like Darjeeling teas, Assams are typically harvested from March through to December. Higher quality teas are harvested here during two distinct growth periods, the first and second flush. All other grades of tea are harvested after this period. The first flush begins in March, and the second flush begins in June.
SRI LANKAN GROWN TEA:
Due to the warmth in the southernmost tropical growing regions of Nilgiri in South India and Sri Lanka, tea plants can be harvested year-round.
The key dates for harvesting really do depend on the characteristics of the region and country that the tea is grown - however seasonal fluctuations in the weather can also have a dramatic effect on the growing season. Timing is essential, with many teas having only a narrow window to be plucked from the plants due to the fast growth of the tea buds, which will appear, open up and mature in a matter of days.
Many teas are known to grow through the warmer months of the year. With cooler weather comes a period of inactivity from the tea plants, marking the end of many regions growing seasons. However once the temperature begin to rise again, the first new tea shoots to grow from the plants are often considered to be the best quality. This is because the plants are believed to store nutrients as a reserve over their dormancy period, using this reserve to produce new young leaves at the start of the season. This first new harvest of the year is often the most expensive to purchase, as the leaves grown here are considered the prize produce from the plant and are the most desired by tea enthusiasts and buyers.