Trees were growing in the mountainous and rainy primitive forests in Yunnaan Guizhou, Sichuan and other Provinces in the wry beginning. Later they were planted and transplanted by people, who gradually summarized that tea trees liked places where were warm, damp and in the shade. Generally speaking, the best temperature for them is between 180 ℃ and 250 ℃ They stop growing when it’s below 50 ℃ and are likely to die when if s over 40°C. Tea trees like to grow in damp places and are very demanding about the water content in air and soil. Tea trees are easily influenced by height. Take the famous Wuyi Rock tea for example, Zheng Rock tea from the top of Wuyi Mountain, Ping Rock tea from the middle of the mountain, and Zhou tea from he valley are differently graded – the higher, the more valuable, and soil also play a decisive role in the growth of tea trees.
Ancient people thought that tea trees are not regarded as high or low because of their breeds. The differences come from their growing conditions. Regions with advantaged environment can more often produce rare types of tea. That’s why it is said that “famous mountains give birth to famous tea.” Taking for instance the Chinese famous mountains that are listed as “World’s Inheritance,” we have Rock tea from Wuyi Mountain, Maofeng from Mount Huangshan, Cloud-and-Fog from Mount Lushan, Maofeng from Mount Emei, Maojian from Wuling Mmmtairv Snow-Bud from Mount Qingcheng, and many other traditional famous teas. This shows how important it is for keeping tea trees’ vitality to have high forest coverage rate, rich fauna and flora, and healthy ecological environment.
Lai Yu said in his The Book of Tea, “Tea is good wood in the smith,” “Good wood” is a eulogy referring to the characteristics of tea trees, Lu Yu used a series of metaphors to describe tea trees, “Tea… its tree looks like melon leaves are like Gardenia’s, flowers are like white rosebushes, fruit is like palm’s stem is like dove’s, and root looks like walnut’s. Tea trees are generally divided into three types – shrub, arbor, and minor arbor. The shrub type stands 3 to 5 meters high in natural conditions. Wild tea trees can even reach 10 meters high. The arbor type is usually only 1.5 to 3 meters. Cultivated tea trees are short because they are pruned.
Tea trees originally grow in the wild, later they are cultivated by humans. Limited by natural conditions, tea areas in China are mainly in the south. But with the improvement of cultivating Beilis, these areas tend to spread continuously. In the Tang Dynasty there were 8 main tea-producing areas in China. In the Song Dynasty, these areas were everywhere in the south of Qinling Mountains and Huai River. The Ming Dynasty basically settled the distribution pattern of tea areas today.
For a very long time people thought wild tea leaves were more precious. The Book of Tea said that “those in the wild are superior while those in the garden are inferior.” In the Tang Dynasty, people in every tea area chose the best leaves to pay tribute to the royalties. Those were called “Tribute Tea.”The most celebrated tribute tea at that time was the Purple Bamboo Shoot Tea, growing near Mount Guzhu in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, fa order to Satisfy the royalties, request for wild Purple Bamboo Shoot Tea, the local people made great efforts, An official who superintended the production of tribute tea wrote in a poem that the leave pickers had to climb high cliffs to pick leaves, but they could only get a handful in a whole morning. Tang Dynasty had a late demand for tribute tea, the largest amount being 9200 kilos. Wild tea trees could not meet such a huge demand, so part of the tribute tea were produced from tea gardens cultivated but those were less good in quality.
The cultivation of tea trees has a long history. Wild tea trees, after long years of human cultivation, have changed a lot in their appearances. Gradually they were mainly short shrubs, and their growing environment was not confined to mountains only. Tang people already had a very deep understanding of the growth characteristics of tea. In accordance with tea’s preference for shade, Tang people planted tea in the shaded north side or under mulberries. Tea trees usually lived in wet and rainy reborn, but too much rain might spoil the roots, so tea planting set a high standard for soil. According to Lu Yu, the soil in which tea trees lived not only needed a good drainage, but had to contain a little acid. Based on this, Tang people invented the way of digging deep channels and ridges at either side of the tree, so as to vent the unwanted water in time, thus preventing the root from soaking in water too long, which could lead to the death of the tree. At that time, tea trees were seeded and rarely replanted. People believed that planting tea was like planting melon. It required 3 years of cultivation before it could be picked. Lu Yu divided the entire country to 8 major tea producing areas. Residents within those areas mostly undertook the planting or producing of tea leaves. In some places 60-70% of the residents lived by tea. The planting, making, and selling of tea became economic lifeline of these ares.
The Song Dynasty witnessed the height of splendor of tea, and tea cultivation made greater progress. In Emperor Huizong’s General Remarks on Tea, he used the theory of mutual complementation of Yin and Yang to perfect the planting of tea trees. He said that on the hillside, trees should be planted in the sunny side while they should be in the shade side of the garden. That’s because hill soil belonged to Yin, and the tea leaves from there were thin in taste needing sunshine to neutralize them. Garden soil was too fertile and made the leaves strong, so they had to avoid direct sunshine. People in the Song Dynasty paid more attention to title air permeability of soil. They added chaff and burned day to soil to ameliorate the soil fabric. Every June garden workers would scarify the soil and earth up for fee tea trees, and would weed on the hottest noon in summer. They pulled the weeds out with roots and insolated them under the sun, and the dried weeds were to be used as fertilizers for the frees. This method combined scarification, weeding, and fertilization, effectively saving manpower and materilas. It could be called “killing three birds with one stone.” Unlike Tang people’s planting tea trees under mulberries, Song people took tung oil trees to be the best partner for tea trees,because tung trees were tall while tea trees were short, and they could bring out the best of each other, What’s more, tea trees disliked heat in summer and couldn’t stand coldness in winter, Tung trees gave out broad and big leaves in early spring, so they could provide tea trees with shade. In autumn tung leaves fell early, which made it easy for sunlight to shine directly upon the tea trees to give them enough warmth.
In the Ming Dynasty, more theoretical remarks were made upon the cultivation of tea leaves. Ming people believed that tea leaves grown in the plain absorbed the flavor of soil, while those on the cliff could absorb the marrow of sunshine, breeze, rain and dew; therefore mountains were the best locations for tea planting, During this time, vegetative propagation was invented. Branches were cut off tea trees to be replanted elsewhere. After many years of growing, tea trees no longer gave birth to new shoots because the soil got lean. That’s the time to get rid of the old branches by chopping or burning the old trees. After that new shoots would pop out from the roots In the following spring.
Tea picking normally take place in spring, summer and autumn, and the leaves picked in each season are accordingly called spring tea, summer tea and autumn tea, which are different in their shape and quality. Spring tea should be picked around Waking of Insects (near March 6th) and Grain Rain (near April 20th). If earlier, leaves haven’t matured, while if later, they are old and have stem, neither is good. Spring tea picked from Waking of Insects till Pure Brightness (April 5th) are what we call Pre-tea or First tea. They take on a light verdant color and taste pure with a little acerbity. Two weeks after Pure Brightness is Rain, when fine rain descends in south China and brings nutrition to all kinds of crops. That is the second high time for picking spring tea. Leaves picked after Pure Brightness and before Grain Rain are called Pre-Rain tea, and those picked after that time are called After-Rain tea. The price of spring tea differs according to their picking time. Generally speakings green tea in early spring is deemed as the best in quality. Leaves picked in the current year are called new tea while those put away for over a year are called old tea. Green tea and oolong tea are better to be new while Pu’er tea tastes better and costs more after longer years.
Lu Yu prescribed that tea picking should be done in right weather. Leaves shouldn’t be picked in dandy days if there was rain, nor in sunny days if there were clouds. Later generations amended and developed this regulation. Generally speaking tea picking should be done around the Waking of Insects (the 3rd solar term) and Grain Rain (the 4th solar term). Before that tea leaves hadn’t completed growth and alter that leaves were old and had peduncles – neither was good. Garden tea leaf picking in the plain should be carried out before the sun was up, for once the sun rose, its strong light would wither the leaves and made them lose water. If so, the leaves after processing would taste much worse. In the mountain there was much fog, so tea should be picked after the sun rose and fog dispersed. Some reckon that tea leaves picked at this time could stop coughing, dispel phlegm, and cure many other illnesses. Tea leaves should be picked with clean finger tips rather than fingers, as fingers might be stained with dust and sweat to taint the leaves. The picked leaves would be sorted into different grades. Different grades couldn’t be mixed together.
Leaves of tea trees are the major material in tea making, and are therefore the most important. The fresher the leaves are, more delicious they taste after processing, so leaves are normally picked when they are still little shoots. The top shoots and young shoots in the tip of a new branch are both covered with soft hairs in the shaded side, which is a sign of delicacy and high quality. On the same branch, the soft hairs are mostly on the dense and long. Next to shoots are young leaves, and then tender leaves As die leaves mature, hairs become shorter and then off. These leaves can only make low-quality products, or cannot be used at all.