Part four of this five part series examines another crucial element in producing the best loose leaf tea. Elevation! Elevation! Elevation!
Loose leaf tea is harvested in over 40 countries with China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya producing 75% of the world's tea. Each region has its own characteristics due to distinct soil and climate conditions. Generally speaking, the higher the elevation a tea bush is grown the better the quality of tea. Elevation is one of the most important criteria for growing top rated loose leaf teas because of the micro climate. This is not to say you can't find good lower elevation loose leaf teas because you can.
Elevation is one of the largest effects on localized weather. Tea bushes grown at higher elevations tend to receive lower temperatures and higher amounts of precipitation than the tea bushes at grown lower altitudes. Air pressure is lower at higher altitudes and so is the capacity for air to hold water vapor. As warm air rises, it expands and cools and cannot hold all its moisture. This causes clouds to form and the moisture is released as rain or snow depending on the air temperature. As a result of the increased precipitation, valuable water is delivered to the roots.
The windward side of mountains has the highest rainfall and the leeward side (opposite the wind source) of mountains tends to be drier. Tea bushes need an ample supply a water and grow better on the windward sides of mountain ranges.
Tea Bushes grown at higher elevations get more rain, more cloudy mist, more sunlight, more temperature variations, and less oxygen. These "adversities" effect of the flavor by adding desirable subtle notes and tones to almost all varieties of tea.
Low altitude tea production greatly outnumbers high mountain teas because there is more area for growing around the base of the mountains than toward the peaks. Lower supply also equates to greater demand. Tea grown at lower elevations tend to be full bodied with more astringency than high mountain grown teas. The increased astringency makes it more difficult for the novice tea drinker to brew. We recommend using a little less tea, lower temperature water and less steep time to combat the bitterness, however cream and sugar are often used as well.
High mountain grown loose leaf teas are much more forgiving while brewing and still end up with a decent flavor. It pays to buy high quality loose leaf tea rather than tossing a cup of tea that is too bitter or trying to mend it with cream and sugar.
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