It is still too early to tell how the drought will play out, according to Austin Hodge, founder of Seven Cups Fine Chinese Tea. At question is whether the withered plants will produce the first flush bounty so essential to the economic welfare of China’s small tea growers.
In much of China, the first flush or pre-Qing harvest is the most lucrative of the year. During this time the tender leaves benefit from long dormancy and the fact that insects that feast on the shoots are just awakening from the winter’s cold.
“Meaningful indications will start to become evident in the next couple of weeks. If there aren’t rains the tea will be flavorful, but the leaves and buds will be lighter and skinnier,” he said. Rainfall just prior to the harvest “could plump them up a bit. Either way the price is likely to rise. This happened few years back under similar circumstance, but the drought the year before was not so severe,” said Hodge.
Last summer the Provincial Agricultural Department in East China’s Zhejiang province, one of the nation’s major producers of tea, reported severe stress to 27,000 hectares (67,000 acres) of farms in Hangzhous, Huzhou and Lishui.
Rainfall declined 70 percent compared to 2012. The region experienced two months of severe drought. Shanghai experienced the hottest July since record keeping began 140 years ago.
China Daily reported that in Tonglu County, Hangzhou, tea bushes covering 40 hectares of tea farms withered under the prolonged high temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Local authorities estimated yields would drop by 70 percent.
The drought greatly affected tea production in Anji, according to the Anji County Agricultural Bureau. Tea bushes on 3,000 hectares of tea farms in Anji County were harmed with half suffering serious losses, according to agricultural officials.
In Yunnan the yield of top quality puer from older trees will be dramatically affected, said Hodge. “The drought has been ongoing for many years in Yunnan. The affect is becoming more dramatic. Last year maocha produced from trees over 100 years dropped from around 7 percent of the total yield to half of that,” he said. “No matter what, the percentage of old trees contributing to the harvest will continue to drop this year,” he predicted.
“It is the second plucking where the problem lies,” explains Hodge. “Last year there was no second plucking from old trees. The drought slowed leaf growth because there isn’t enough water. These old trees have seen a lot when it comes to weather changes over centuries, so they are not in as much risk as the less well established bushes in the East, but it also means that where won’t be much tea harvested,” he said.