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The difference between industrial tea and handcrafted tea

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

shincha, tea leaves, young leaves and buds
Fresh tea leaves and buds

The Japanese green tea that most people can buy is actually not handpicked tea. Its tea is harvested with machinery rather than hand. And therefore, more economical. Today, handpicked teas are rare to be seen in Japan. Most of the tea produced in Japan is harvested by machines and does not have that mellow and smooth flavor and aroma handpicked tea has. Handpicked tea, no matter if Sencha, Gyokuro, or Tencha is very precious. The tea trees used for handpicking and machine harvest are grown in different ways. They have different shapes to provide an optimal picking result. Tea fields that are going to be harvested by machinery have an oval shape, tea fields for the manual harvest look rather wild because the people harvesting the leaves can choose which leaves they want to pick. A machine cannot do this. For the automated harvest, they need to cut the leaves at a certain height to get the best result.

Generally speaking, there are three different methods of handpicking:

- Niyo Tsumi (1 bud with 2 leaves)

The first two leaves from the tip of the stem are going to be picked. Only the finest quality of Gyokuro and Sencha are made with these leaves.

- Sanyou Tsumi (1 bud with 3 leaves)

The first three leaves from the tip of the stem are going to be picked. Only high quality Gyokuro and Sencha are made with these leaves.

- Hutsu Tsumi (1 bud with 4 to 5 leaves)

The first four or five leaves from the tip of the stem are going to be picked. This picking method is used for "normal" quality tea.

The tea plant used for black tea production has rather large leaves, compared to the plant used for green tea. Because of the size of the leaves, larger leaves are more suitable for fermented tea or semi-fermented tea. For green tea, smaller tea leaves are preferred, but also make less tea amount. Outside of Japan, in almost all major tea production countries, over 90% of the leaves are picked by hand. Because of much lower labor costs. Also, other picking methods lead to a much bigger amount of picked leaves a day. In Sri Lanka, a tea-picking woman makes around 50kg of leaves a day. Depending on the level of skills, and tea picking technique, one person only picks between 10-35kg of leaves a day in Japan. And through all the following processing steps following the hand picking, in the end, we end up with around only 4-9kg ready to sell tea for 20kg of processed leaves.

And just keep in mind, handpicking takes a lot of time and money. So, regular tea plantations use scissors and machines to offer very good tea at reasonable prices to the whole of Japan. And only the finest tea is made with the most sensitive tea buds picked by hand and sold for a rather expensive price.

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