Friday, November 5, 2010

Section 1. Picking Tea

"Regarding the season for picking tea, choosing the right time is very important."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korean Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.



Matt said...


Sorry, somehow the quote from section 3. made it into this post. It has since been corrected.

So, what do you thing of these tea picking guidelines?


Gingko said...

I like what he said about harvest time, "if too early, the flavor of the tea is not complete". That's nature's rule that's neglected by people sometimes. Once I read a Chinese tea encyclopedia book. The author points out that nowadays some green teas are harvested too early to have full flavor. The earliest green tea is supposed to be the most precious. In today's market system, prices of some teas are directly linked to the harvest dates, the earlier, the more expensive. So people have the incentive to harvest on tea leaves as early as possible and sometimes the earliest possible time is not the "right" time.

Matt said...


You bring up a pretty good point, these days all too often nature's law is rejected in favour of market's law. This perversion is not only inclusive of picking time but also includes picking tea too late in the season, over picking tea from the same bush, and/or using fertilizers or other unnatural chemicals to increase yields. Usually these unnatural ways of growing tea are combined.

Tea that goes against natures natural flow of energy will always be substandard.

The quote you selected speaks of picking tea leaves when they contain the greatest potential energy for the type of tea which will be produced. Different varietals, in different growing areas, in different climates will not be picked at the exact same time. But for the tea to contain the purest qi, a qi that mirrors that of nature, it must be picked when it has the greatest potential energy within.

The qi of tea is similar to that of the rising sun. It rises quickly in the East and sets slowly in the West. Chaqi is rising, strong, powerful, uplifting.

If tea is picked too early, it is like waking too early in the morning- there is no energy, just darkness- the sun has not begun to rise.

If tea is picked too late, it is like waking up too late in the day- there is no energy, just lethargy of mid-day- the sun is already going down.

If tea is picked at the right time, it is like waking up with the rising sun- it is filled with energy.


Rebekah said...

Gingko, yes....I wonder sometimes if humanity's rush against nature will transform us en masse into something we regret.

"The qi of tea is similar to that of the rising sun. It rises quickly in the East and sets slowly in the West. Chaqi is rising, strong, powerful, uplifting." !

Interesting that shiny leaves, which feature in so many glamor shots of tea, are judged the least good.

Matt said...


"Gingko, yes....I wonder sometimes if humanity's rush against nature will transform us en masse into something we regret."

Chilling idea. Hopefully there is enough demand out there for more natural growth and production that will dictate the future direction of tea.

Think the "shiny leaves that look like those of bamboo" is not referring to the soft, supple, waxy shine of fresh buds often featured in the glamour shots. Rather it is referring to the older, darker, larger, rougher shine of the leaves that lie beneath the new buds.

Check out this link to a picture of bamboo for comparison:

Thanks for bring this point up for clarification.

It seems like the discussion of the best leaf variety corresponds to the stages of tea leaf growth. First the leaf emerges as a russet-tinted bud, then as it grows it becomes wrinkled, then round, then as it matures it looks like that of a bamboo leaf. The bud is the best because it contains the most potential energy. The older bamboo-shiny-leaf is the least desirable because most of the biochemical processes have taken place, and the leaf's potential energy has all been used up.


Matt said...


Notes on Section 1 (Part 1):

The beginning of this section states that "choosing the right time is very important". This statement is referring to astrology, the art of timing. It then goes on to list 3 other factors that influence tea picking. Astrology is the most important, it is the first mentioned. In asian writing styles, the order that things are written imply import and rank more so than in western writing. So we can assume that astrology is the most important factor to consider when picking tea.

The system of East Asian astrology as mentioned in the second paragraph is the system of 24 seasonal divisions or solar terms. See here:

In ancient times these 24 seasonal divisions were used to signal the most appropriate and auspicious times in which certain life events and seasonal rituals should be carried out. Picking of tea was therefore subject to this system. Each of the 24 seasonal divisions approximately lasts for 15 or 16 days and each division is further divided into 3 pentads, lasting 5 (rare occasions some may be 6 days).

The most optimal tea is to be picked "five days before Gogu" (the last pentad of Qingming, lit. clear and bright), the second best "the five days after Gogu" (the first pentad of Gogu), and the third best "the five days after that" (the second pentad of Gogu).

See here for info on Qingming:

and Gogu:


Matt said...


Notes on section 1 (Part 2):

The second most important factor to consider when picking leaves is the stage of leaf growth (see commentary above).

The third most important factor to consider when picking leaves is the climate and weather.

On a practical level, this speaks at the ease at which the moisture of the picked tea leaves can be controlled during the production process. All tea pickers know to never pick tea on rainy, or excessively humid days, less the tea will fail to dry properly and loose all its essence.

However, there is a much deeper level to which these sentences address. They essentially state that tea must be picked when the weather and energy of the earth is in balance with the energy of the tea plant.

"Tea leaves which are soaked with dew after a cloudless night are the best" Night is yin, moonlight is the energy of yin, water is yin, dew (water of night) is more yin. There are no clouds to impede the full absorption of yin energy from the moonlight and from the dew. When the most yin time of day (night) is full of yin influence (moonlight & dew) the yin of the tea is strengthened and in harmony. (Note that the translation here is correct as it states "after a cloudless night" not "picked in the middle of the night" as the version states)

"Leaves picked by day in bright sunshine are next" Day is yang, sunlight is the energy of yang, brightness is more yang. There are no clouds to impede the full absorption of yang energy from the sunlight. When the most yang time of day (daytime) is full of yang influence (bright sunlight) the yang of the tea is strengthened and in harmony.

The fourth important factor to consider when picking tea leaves is feng shui- the art of placement. Just like weather's influence, the environmental influence is part practical and part deeper.

"Tea from a valley is best" Valleys have always been auspicious feng shui locations where temples have been carefully built. Valleys pool energy- giving what is located within strength and power.

"Tea from under a bamboo grove are next" Bamboo is also seen as auspicious bringing with it luck, endurance, and longevity.

"leaves from stony soil is next" Stony soil is said to promote the energy of some herbs such as ginseng, giving it more abundance and enhancing its qi.


Anonymous said...


Part one of three

“Picking Tea” in the ChaSinJeon 茶神傳 (A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a.k.a. Chalu [Record of Tea, 1595] by Zhang Yüan 張源 [16th cent.]) was based on a long tradition of tea processing which was itself founded on the writings of the Tang tea master Lu Yü 陸羽 (trad. 733-804) and
his Chajing 茶經 (Book of Tea, 780), specifically “Yi zhi yüan 一之源 (Part One: Origins)” and “San zhi zao 三之造 (Part Three: Processing).”

In “Origins,” Lu Yü described the varying quality of tea according to the maturity of the leaf: sun 芛 (shoot), ya 芽 (bud), and ye 葉 (leaf):

“The russet leaves of plants grown on sunny cliffs and among shade trees are of superior quality; green leaves are next. The shoots of the tea plant are of superior quality; the buds are next. Tightly curled leaves are of superior quality; leaves that are open are next. Tea grown on shade mountain slopes and valleys should not be picked…”

In “Processing,” he explained in detail the picking of tea buds:

“In general, pick tea within the second, third, and fourth lunar months. Tea shoots resemble fern and bracken stalks beginning to uncurl, four to five inches long. Pick plants grown in fertile soil containing disintegrated rock while the morning dew is icy cold. Tea buds issue from the lush crown of the plant. There are shoots with three, four, and five stems. Select buds from the middle stem to pluck, then pick them.”

In Lu Yü’s time, tea was picked steamed, pressed, and pounded to a thick, pulpy paste that was molded in to a small cake and dried. The cake was stored until needed; then it was broken and ground into a fine powder, and finally boiled into a foamy soup. Because of the processing and powdering, the younger the tea – shoot, bud, and leaf – picked meant a finer particle suspended in water and a frothier and creamier brew.


Anonymous said...


Part two of three

Nearly four hundred fifty years after Lu Yü and the Book of Tea, the Ming tea connoisseur Wen Zhenheng 文震亨 (1585-1645) wrote “Pincha 品茶 (The Connoisseurship of Tea),” a section of his Changwu zhi 長物志 (Record of Superlative Things, ca. 1620), in which he noted the change in the art of tea and that of the Tang:

“In our dynasty, however, the esteemed methods of tea are not the same. The process of heating and brewing is different from the ancients. Although simpler and more convenient, these different means completely preserve the natural quality of tea and can be said to perfectly attain tea’s true flavor.”

Wen Zhenheng then admonished:

“In harvesting tea, one need not pick too fine a leaf. Fine leaves are tea buds: these first teas are deficient, lacking in flavor. Dark green leaves are already old and the flavor not delicate enough. Tea is only superior when the stem still retains a leaf green color and the round, thick one are best.”

By the late Ming, the art of tea was completely transformed; tea was picked and processed as whole leaves for steeping tea, requiring tea leaves ye 葉 as opposed to tea buds ya 芽.


Anonymous said...


Part three of three

Regarding the solar term Qingming 清明, the early harvest of tea in Tang times was predicated on the imperial calendar and the emperor’s need to sacrifice to his ancestors on Qingming jie 清明節 (Festival of the Pure and Bright, April 4-5). In order to meet processing, handling, and courier deadlines, the picking of tea for the caked tea used in imperial rituals began in the second lunar month, March. As described by Lu Yü in the Book of Tea, tea continued to be harvested throughout April and into May.

It is notable that the traditions in the art of tea, particularly picking and processing, developed during a warm age in China’s history. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the period before and after the Tang dynasty, circa 450 and 1000 A.D., was warm with a “low-amplitude temperature variability,” meaning few great differences between high and low temperatures. The Tang dynasty was a part of climate history known as the Medieval Warm Period (~800-1300 A.D.).

By the time that Zhang Yüan wrote the Record of Tea (1595) and Wen Zhenheng wrote his “The Connoisseurship of Tea” (ca. 1620), Ming China experienced what is called the Little Ice Age (~1400-1900 AD), a time when artists in the south marveled at the unexpected sight of gardens blanketed in white, prompting them to paint scrolls with titles like Bamboo in Snow and Plantains in Snow. In addition, volcanic eruptions contributed to changes in the atmosphere. Coincidental to the end of the Medieval Warm Period ca. 1300 A.D., the weather grew colder starting around 1280 A.D. and produced a distinct burst in ice formation at the earth’s poles. The phenomenon was linked to “increases in stratospheric aerosols tied to major volcanic eruptions in the tropics.”

In his writing on Longjing 龍井 (Dragon Well) and Tianmu 天目 (Heaven’s Eyes) teas of Hangzhou in the south, Wen Zhenheng reflected the change in climate:

“Cold comes early to the mountains. In winter there is much snow. So, the young, tender leaves of Longjing and Tianmu teas bud relatively late.”

Remarking on the cold weather in the Hangzhou region and the late picking of Tianmu tea, the Ming connoisseur Tu Long 屠隆 (1542–1605) wrote in his Chashuo 茶說 (Speaking of Tea, ca. 1590):

“it is recorded in the local chronicles: in the mountains the cold is early and severe. The mountain monks dare not go out even in the ninth month. In winter there is much snow. By the third month there is a general thaw; the tea buds are relatively late.”

Dragon Well was an early bud tea usually picked before April 4-5, whereas Heaven’s Eye tea was “picked in the fifth month (June), the leaves are thick and red in color; the juice, rich and refined.” From Wen Zhenheng’s remarks, however, even Dragon well was picked later than the traditional date of the Festival of the Pure and Bright in the first week of April.


Matt said...


Many thanks for putting the information in the ChaShinJeon into a greater historical framework. It is quite interesting how each teamaster, in each classic, in each historical period, has something just a bit different to say about the optimal conditions for picking tea. The historical climate records and the style of the tea during each era is also priceless when considering their advice but does't tell the full story- leaving just a bit for speculation.


Ho Go said...

I have a keen sense that the tea farmer whose life is intertwined with his crop develops an intuitive sense of when to pick the first leaves. That sense is hopefully carried over to the processing stage where the tea's inherent qualities can be revealed. I don't think there is any 'formula' involved as we are dealing with a living product not a factory made item that looks and tastes the same year after year. I am in awe of these farmers and tea masters and their understanding of their 'work'.

Matt said...


Wonderfully, put.

As you mentioned, in the end it has much more to do with how closely the tea farmers, pickers, and tea masters are in harmony to the energy of nature, the change of the season, and to the ebb and flow of the tea plants than any adherence to a "formula".

Only through lots of experience and a connectedness to the land can this connection be fostered.

Thanks for bringing this up.


Anonymous said...

The qi of tea is similar to that of the rising sun. It rises quickly in the East and sets slowly in the West.

What do you mean with that sentence, Matt? East/West of China? Within a plantation? In relation to the orientation of the mountain or the valley?

Your comment about time division and pentads is very interesting, thanks!

Your comment about yin energy is fantastic. Very well thought.
I would love to brew tea leaves from the same plant -- leaves whose yin is exacerbated, and leaves whose yang is exacerbated. Do we see the difference? Does one age better? Interesting things to experiment…

(Note that the translation here is correct as it states "after a cloudless night" not "picked in the middle of the night" as the version states)

Did you write to to tell them about it?
I also see that the part about round leaves and shiny leaves is missing is their translation. (Maybe they are using a different original text? Would it also explain the point about “after a cloudless night” vs “in the middle of the night” [without any mention of “cloudless”]?)

Incidentally, if leaves are soaked with dew, doesn't it damage them after being picked? It adds dampness, doesn't it?

Stony soil is said to promote the energy of some herbs such as ginseng

I know a shu cha (vrac 16, 1983, M3T Paris for connoisseurs) whose flavour is ginseng roots. Maybe it came from such a soil…

“Tea leaves from a valley are best.” -> isn't it in contradiction with Yi Mok's text and his mountains, his cliffs? only speaks about “fertile fields”. Isn't it a better translation than “valley”? At least, it sounds better, and is more in harmony with the rest of the sentence which deals with the quality of the ground (bamboo grove, stony soil, loamy soil).

Matt said...

Julien ÉLIE,

"The qi of tea is similar to that of the rising sun. It rises quickly in the East and sets slowly in the West."

It means that chaqi is born of nature and reflects natures movement. Tea is of Wood. Wood is of the East. Wood energy rises from the East. When Tea is processed it usually softens tea strong rising nature and allows it to slowly descending from East to West.

Regarding the translation differences,

The Leaf translation isn't "wrong" it is just different. But one has never heard of tea picking at night. On the other hand, teamasters in the mountains who practice the Way of the Tea have told one that "tea picked after a cloudless night" is energetically better.

"if leaves are soaked with dew, doesn't it damage them after being picked? It adds dampness, doesn't it?"

It doesn't damage the tea leaves at all, the dampness it adds is slight and can easily be dried in the cauldron. Alternatively, a very humid day of the processing harms the tea because the tea fails to properly dry. That is why "leaves must not be picked on a cloudy or rainy day"- the day must be sunny, yang energy (sun) to balance the yin energy (dew).

In reference to tea from the valley. This statement doesn't contradict Han Jae Yi Mok's statement, remember that 'valley' is referring to the mountainous area between the mountain peeks. One likes the Korean tea classics version better because The Leaf version is a bit too redundant and doesn't give us any real information... of course tea from "fertile fields produces the best tea"... and tea from infertile fields produce inferior tea.