Guide to Tea Harvest Times

by Tony Gebely 8

A flushing tea plant ready to be plucked.

When tea leaves are harvested depends largely on the region in which they are being grown and can vary from season to season with fluctuations in weather. The timing of the harvest is of utmost importance as it can take only a few days for a bud to appear, open up, and grow into a large leaf. Missing the harvest can destroy a crop as a style of tea may require that only the buds be plucked, or that only a certain number of small leaves be plucked after the bud opens. If there is a dormancy period due to cool weather in the tea field, the first new shoots after this period are of the highest quality and thus the most sought after and usually the most expensive. This is because they have been building up nutrient reserves over the dormancy period for the new leaves. Many growing regions have special names for this first harvest. In India and Nepal, it is called the “first flush,” in China, these teas are known as “Pre-Qing Ming” teas, in Japan they are referred to as “Shincha” and in South Korea, “Ujeon.” Each growing region also has a special set of terms for referring to tea harvest periods. In India and Nepal, each harvest is called a “flush” referring to a period of growth in the tea plant. In China, Taiwan and South Korea, the terms used to denote tea harvests are dates in the traditional East Asian lunisolar calendar. Here’s a guide to the harvest seasons for the world’s major producers of specialty teas: India, Nepal, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and the countries of East Africa:

India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Tea Harvest
Darjeeling (India) & Nepal The Darjeeling and Nepali harvest period lasts from late March to early November and is 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

Nilgiri (India) & Sri Lanka Due to the lack of a cold season in southernmost growing regions such as Nilgiri in South India and Sri Lanka, tea plants can be harvested year round. Assam (India) Like Darjeelings, Assams are typically harvested from March to October. 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, the second in June.

China & Taiwan Tea Harvest
The harvest season in China and Taiwan varies greatly between the different growing regions and elevations there, but in general the harvest season can begin as early as April and can last until late November. Finished teas that are made from young leaves or buds and have a more finite growing season will typically be harvested on or near dates on the East Asian lunisolar calendar. Teas plucked before Qing Ming are highly sought after and command a premium, these teas are called Pre Qing Ming teas. Here’s how the rest of the harvest season shakes out:

  • Qing Ming “clear bright”: tea picked before April 4-6
  • Yu Qian “before the rains”: tea picked before April 20
  • Gu Yu “grain rain”: tea picked before May 5
  • Li Xia “start of summer”: tea picked before May 21

Finished teas that are made from older leaves usually do not follow such a strict harvest calendar and can be harvested at any time from April to November.

Japan Tea Harvest
The harvest season in Japan varies by region as well but typically begins in late April and ends in early October. Japan’s sought after first harvest is called Shincha. Aside from Shincha, Japan has four distinct harvest periods:

  • Shincha “new tea”: this is the name given to the first harvest of the year
  • Ichibancha “first tea”: this refers to the entire first harvest season, including schincha and typically occurs from late April to May
  • Nibancha “second tea”: refers to the second harvest of the year taking place June to the end of July
  • Sanbancha “third tea”: third harvest of the year taking place in August
  • Yonbancha “fourth tea”: this is the fourth harvest of the year and can take place as late as October in some regions

South Korea Tea Harvest
South Korea’s growing seasons correspond to dates on the lunisolar calendar. Finished tea from the first harvest of the year is called Ujeon. All other harvest periods contain the word “jak” which means sparrow and is a reference to “sparrow’s tongue tea” or jaksul cha. Interestingly, in some point in history someone thought that tea leaves resemble sparrow tongues. It is important to know that in South Korea, different grades are harvested during different times so the harvest period is defined by the grade of tea picked during that time. Lets have a lick:

  • Ujeon “before the rain”: tea picked before April 20 which corresponds to Gogu on the lunisolar calendar.
  • Sejak: “small sparrow”: tea picked before May 5-6 which corresponds to Ipha on the lunisolar calendar.
  • Jungjak “medium sparrow” : tea picked around May 20-21 which corresponds to Soman on the lunisolar calendar.
  • Daejak “large sparrow” : this harvest period refers to lower quality large leaves tea picked during summer.

Africa Tea Harvest
In the East African tea producing countries of Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, and Ethiopia, tea is able to be harvested year round due to the lack of a cold season with peak tea production coinciding with rainy seasons.

Tony Gebely

Tony has been studying tea for over ten years and has traveled to many tea producing regions throughout Asia. His book, "Tea: A User's Guide" is available now.

Comments (8)

  1. You might want to tweak a little on Assam.
    Production extends from March to December. Not October.
    Even Darjeeling goes into late November.
    Unlike Darjeeling, in Assam it is the Second Flush which brings in the oomph and the quality. First Flush teas there tend to have a somewhat natural green character.
    Further, in the Nilgiris we have a VERY distinct cold season with temperatures dipping to zero deg C and at times well below that. This is the quality period here. Check

  2. Hi there – I actually have a chart on my blog for Tea Harvest Times: I love the detail on this blog entry. May I add it to my blog and point to yours?

  3. This is so great, thanks for it. I can imagine the info in a nice chart, something like this:

    With the Nilgiri region, I was told from estates that the winter crop (“frost teas”) are of particular value, although not an actual separate flush. I wasn’t able to get agreement on the exact months, but it sounds like it’s December-ish til February.

    1. Thanks Raj, I had heard of these frost teas but didn’t have enough information about them because they are so few and far between. I’ll look into it some more. I’ll make a pretty chart at some point, maybe for the book. Cheers!

  4. Your Chinese classification is a little confused. Qīngmíng (清明) “clear and bright”, Gǔyǔ (穀雨) “grain rain” and Lìxià (立夏) “summer begins” are all solar terms. These are specific dates like our equinoxes and solstices that occur roughly the same time every year, namely April 5, April 20, and May 6 respectively. Teas that are produced before these dates are designated with Qián (前) “before” and an abbreviation of the term: Míngqián 明前 tea is produced before Qīngmíng, and likewise with yǔqián. One would imagine harvesting clusters around those dates (as opposed to directly in between them) in order to squeak under the deadline, or fudge it just after. And obviously no one would label a tea harvested before April 5 with the less-lucrative “yǔqián” though it would be a technically correct designation.

    1. Evan,
      Thanks so much for your help with the Mandarin. I am aware that the harvests are usually clustered around these times, and in my intro I note that the harvests take place “on or near dates on the East Asian lunisolar calendar” – though I guess I could be more clear on this especially since no one would really use less-lucrative yuqian designation. As for the dates, they vary on the Gregorian calendar, which is why I gave short ranges. I’ll re-work this post a bit tonight. Again, thanks a lot for your help on this, hope all is well man!

  5. This is a fantastic bit of writing and now I know why tea vendors in Hong Kong giggle when I ask for Anxi Bai Cha in January. I’ll be sharing it!

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