Admit it – the moment you saw that green tea was featured this month, your mind jumped straight to the health benefits that you could reap with the discount. Time and time again, we hear about how green tea aids in weight control, immunity, and cardiovascular disease. But where exactly is it grown? What is its history? And who are the people who tend to the leaves that we enjoy and benefit from?
This month’s blog takes us to the green tea fields of Japan, China, Indonesia and Vietnam, where many of the world’s green tea farmers live and work. Green tea farming is an art that is thousands of years old, and in the true tradition, is a skill that is passed down through families and different generations. Growing begins in the winter, when farmers fertilize the soil and remove old leaves from the perennial tea plants in order to allow the young buds to get sun and nourishment. Tea plants are susceptible to cold weather, so farmers work hard to prevent frost, either using machinery or other gardening techniques by hand.
There are two basic growing conditions for green tea – sun and shade. Common sun grown varieties include Sencha (pictured above) and Houjicha; shade grown varieties include Matcha, Gyokuro, and Kabusecha. Tea plants are grown in rows that are pruned to produce shoots in a regular manner, and are generally harvested three times per year. After the winter has passed, farmers either hand or machine pick the first leaves in late April to early May. The second harvest is usually from June to July, and the third lot is picked in late July to early August. Occasionally, there is a fourth harvest. It’s clear that summertime is busy for the green tea farmers!
Tea leaves are then sent for processing and refining, including steaming (which gives the green tea flavour you all love), rolling, drying and blending. Often, this is not part of the actual farming process, and does not necessarily need to be done at the site of the green tea garden. Tea is stored after the first few stages of refining, and is then stored until the final firing and packing takes place throughout the year.
So, in honor of the first harvest of the year, kick back, relax, and let a delicious cup of green tea take you to the fields in Asia alongside the hardworking farmers. You (and your body, of course) won’t regret it!
If you are interested in learning more about green tea farmers, and actually watching them in action, check out these segments on YouTube while having your very own cup of green tea. The first, produced by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, details green tea farming as it’s done more modernly, and the second is a grassroots video that follows a more traditional farmer in the hills as he hand picks his crop:
Iced Strawberry & Sencha Green Tea
1/2 pound washed, hulled strawberries from your farmers market
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 sprig mint leaves (about 12 small leaves)
2 cups iced Sencha Japanese green tea, brewed with water that's below boiling. Try this with our Sencha Special or Sencha Supreme!
Blend everything but the Sencha until smooth. Add to the iced Sencha green tea and enjoy with fresh mint and strawberries!