Friday, 28 January 2011

the soil from which it came

Had a long discussion with myself earlier today about what factors impact the quality of tea. I know the plant itself is crucial and the way the tea farmers handle the tea is equally important. But something I got to thinking about today was the quality of the soil that the tea is grown in.

I've asked before what makes Darjeeling tea so unique. The altitude plays a part, as do the things mentioned above. But the actual earth that the tea is grown in must also be key. When it comes to Darjeeling specifically, the spirit of the Hindu god Shiva is also purported to be at work, as well.

But I'd like to continue on this theme of the soil. I did the scantest research, but I did find a very scholarly looking article ( that did it's very best at confusing me further.

There was one line that told me I was on the right track, 'but the pH of the soil is the most critical for raising the nursery plants.' Now we're getting somewhere. A low pH is paramount, because high pH causes something called 'callusing' and might slow down the process.

Then the article goes into excruciating detail about what you can do if you have soil with a high pH level (add either sulphur or an aluminium sulphate solution, but this can backfire because if the soil starts producing sulphuric acid). I'm not going to get any more specific. I'm sure if you're trying to improve the quality of your soil for growing tea, my blog is the last place you'll come looking.

But I am curious if you've heard about the impact of soil on the resulting tea.

Why is tea in China so dramatically different from that in India? Is it simply down to the plant and the way it's processed?


  1. Different areas of the world have different levels of particular nutrients in the soil; that can be part of the reason. I am sure processing plays a large party, and it would also depend on the varietal of the plant. There days a lot of clonal varieties are used - ones that are acclimatized to the specific region in which they grow, again affecting taste. I am sure that the pH would have an impact, as would the degree of pesticide use/fertilisers as well... And not necessarily in a bad wy, as Michael Coffey will tell you if you ask him: apparently conventional crops often score higher with professional tasters than organic crops.

    Something to think about...

  2. The only analogy I can make is with wine: different soils produces different wines.
    I am not a specialist but I guess this is is there are AOC (which roughly translates as controlled designation of origin).

  3. There are so many factors besides pH, including all the minerals, the weather, the elevation, type of fertilizer, bugs, weather, on and on and on.

  4. The plant itself is different. There are different cultivars, and over time, in places like Taiwan or China, varietals that are bred for certain properties. On top of that you have the different climate, processing, etc.... it's no surprise that Darjeelings taste different from, say, a Keemun

  5. Agree with MashaIN - There are n number factors that affect - most importantly being the soil and the processing of the teas. Timing of processing, especially duration of withering, quality of machines and supervision of an experienced person can make all the difference.

  6. Often, if the comments say wildly different things then I answer each one individually. But here nearly all the comments are along the same line.

    I was primarily trying to open a discussion. It was something I'd been pondering, and thought it might be something others had considered. Different soil, as well as the plant varietals and many other things, have an enormous effect.

    Thank you all for helping me out here.