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How the Tea Grows

In the past, tea plants were normally grown from seed, but todays new stock is being produced more and more by vegetative propagation (from cuttings and from layered transplanted rooted branches) and from clonal leaf cuttings. By cloning the plants that produce well and withstand drought, pests, and diseases, producers are aiming for consistency of crop quality and increased commercial viability of their plantations.

New plants are raised in a tea nursery and transplanted to the plantation after about six months, by which time they have grown to a the new shoots -or "flush" - are beginning to grow. In hotter conditions, the plants have several flushes, while in cooler climates, there is a shorten limited flushing season. Leaves from the early flushes are widely sought after, but it is the second flushes that are considered to give the finest teas. For the best quality tea, pickers remove two leaves and a bud from each new shoot. These are nipped off with a downward movement of the thumb and then placed in bags or baskets carried by each plucker.

Because of a shortage of labor in some tea-producing areas, mechanical plucking, carried out with specially adapted tractors and harvesters or with hand-held shears, has replaced the traditional, very skilled hand plucking, but the quality of the tea is inevitably inferior. However, teas produced in this way are useful for blending, and continuing research is attempting to improve mechanical methods.