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What Is Tea Plucking?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2014
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"Tea plucking" is a term that is used to describe the activity of harvesting tea leaves that are considered ready for the preparation of tea and tea-based products. Plucking tea leaves is a process that may be done manually or managed using machinery that helps to expedite the harvesting of the crop. Effective tea plucking involves the ability to identify when the leaves of a particular tea plant have reached the desired level of maturity and making the effort to extract only those leaves, allowing the remaining leaves to remain on the plant and continue in the maturation process.

The exact procedure used in tea plucking will vary. Care is given to both the type of plant involved and the conditions in which the plants are cultivated. Typically, the plucking will settle on determining which leaves are ready for plucking and then engaging in that activity at specific times of the year, when the plants are considered to be at their best. Settling on when to harvest often depends on the climate conditions that prevail, and the impact that the plucking will have on the remaining leaves that are left for harvesting at a later date.

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Traditionally, tea plucking has been done manually. Using this process does have some advantages, as it allows the trained individual managing the harvesting to visually evaluate each tea leaf before it is plucked. The actual plucking may be done with shears designed for the purpose, or by gently grasping the stem of the leaf, squeezing the stem between the nails of the two fingers involved, and gently plucking the leaf from the plant.

Larger operations sometimes use machinery to aid in the tea plucking. While faster and very helpful in gathering large quantities of tea leaves for the mass production of tea products, there is an increased risk of also harvesting immature leaves and even portions of the plant. It is not unusual for additional machinery with sifting capabilities to be used as a means of separating the leaves from any other plant waste that is not suitable for the production of the dried teas and other tea products. The decision to go with tea plucking machinery is increasingly common, especially when the plants are grown as a primary cash crop. Thanks to advances in design and technology, the equipment used today in harvesting tea is able to conduct the plucking with more accuracy, which in turn helps to reduce the amount of time and resources spent in segregating the harvested leaves from other plant matter.

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KoiwiGal
Post 3

I find it fascinating how much goes into the creation of tea, particularly the gourmet teas where every aspect of the process is managed.

It almost seems as complicated as making wine, where every decision on the process can make a difference in the taste and quality of the final product.

I'd never thought about it, but that must include the methods of plucking. I know that white tea is usually made from the very youngest leaves, which are treated very gently compared to the black tea leaves.

The time of year probably matters as well, and the climate the tea is grown in.

I doubt very many expensive teas are plucked by machines. You'd need to train up a good set of people to be able to select the right kinds of leaves.

bythewell
Post 2

@irontoenail - I agree with you to a point, but I don't think you can hold back technology. Companies are always going to go for the easiest, cheapest method, whether it's best for the community or not, unless they are regulated by the government or through public opinion.

In this case, I doubt that automatic tea pluckers will take over most places any time soon.

That kind of equipment would be expensive to buy, expensive to maintain and would require highly trained (and well paid) operators.

I really don't think that all those expenses are going to work out to be cheaper than hiring local labor, which, even at fair rates, is going to work for a pittance by Western standards.

That's particularly true of more expensive teas which need very careful handling and the kind of selection that still needs a human eye and judgement.

irontoenail
Post 1

I think it would be a real shame if they completely automated all the tea plucking in the major plantations. Many of those plantations are providing jobs for people who might otherwise not have any kind of income and so supporting entire communities.

Even in places where the job isn't paying much, some payment is better than nothing at all.

It's the same thing all over the place, where machines are taking the place of human labor.

And tea is mostly grown in very poor countries where there are plenty of people who appreciate the work and the income.

I try to always buy fair trade certified tea so that I know I'm supporting real people, rather than putting money into a company's pocket.

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