There is a type of tea slowly taking over the tea market and it has the potential to cause real harm.

I stood in the workshop of the Family I buy tea from. The single room across from the family’s home was filled with people. Besides the family who was busy sorting and cooking tea, there was a group from BeiJing. They were watching the family work and asking questions about what they were doing. They had a shop in BeiJing and had come down to buy tea from the source. We chatted a bit, then they bought some tea and left. After they left I turned to the mother and asked if the local cultivar was picked. She laughed and said simply “Mei you (no)”. To which I laughed too. We shared this laugh because these young tea shop owners had the effort to come all the way down to Suzhou, but hadn’t gotten the right tea. They had gotten the early cultivars.

Years ago, while still in HuangShan, I made a video about the early cultivars. In the green tea market there are cultivars that are bred specifically for their ability to bud early. These teas will typically bud a whole week or two before the heirloom cultivar. To a tea drinker  hearing a tea is picked so early may get you excited as you have learned that the earlier the pick the soon you taste these tears though you understand that to get such an early pick the teas have made a giant sacrifice, flavor.

New cultivar teas, no matter if they are Bi Luo Chun or Hou Kui, are basically flavorless. The teas are usually sweet, light, with touches of vegetal notes or maybe a floral aroma, but they lack any real substance or characteristics that set them apart. The difference in flavor of an early pick Bi Luo Chun and an early pick Mao Feng are very minimal. This is in part due to the fact that the early picked cultivars are usually the same and can be found in many tea regions. Black Ox ( Hei Niu, 黑牛) is a popular cultivar that I’ve come across alot. So what's the problem with this? Why did I give this article such a dramatic and slightly click baiting title? It's because these teas are becoming increasingly more popular.

A week or two later I went back to the Bi Luo Chun family to experience heirloom making. As I was there I began to ask about the early picked teas.

I was told that these teas are not bought by real tea drinkers. For the most part they are bought as gift teas. The gift giver buys a tea that is accurately called First Pick Bi Luo Chun, puts it in a nice container and gives this to someone that they are trying to win favor from such as a boss or maybe a family member. Neither the gift giver nor the receiver are usually serious tea drinkers. This isn't a new thing. The Bi Luo Chun makers told me that these kinds of teas have been around since the 80s, but recently they are getting more popular and farmers are starting to take out old trees and put in these early sprouting trees. When I went to Qimen I asked the farmer there similar questions and learned some interesting things. As it turns out, these early picked teas do not make very good red teas to do their moisture content.

Besides the early pick, these teas are popular for their visual appearance. These teas have nice fat buds. The fatness of these buds however are not achieved by quality growing but by moisture content. The buds are full of moisture giving them a fat look. In green tea this isn't a problem because the shaqing easily removes the moisture, but in the fermenting step of red teas the high moisture levels are detrimental to the teas. Tea making is mainly focused on allowing moisture to leave the leaf. When the bud has extra moisture this becomes much harder. This is the same reason why it's hard to make tea on humid days.

So was my article title accurate? Will early picked cultivars be the end of quality teas? Probably not. Despite the fact that early picked cultivars, despite producing lower quality teas, are a growing presence in the market there is a silver lining. The people who buy these tears don't usually keep buying them.

When I was talking to the Qimen maker he said that new tea drinkers like the lighter womens because they can't appreciate the stronger flavors. This was similar to what the Bi Luo Chun maker said as we talked about if people drank the new cultivar greens. Bother makers said though that as these customers kept coming back they began buying the teas with the stronger flavors. These light and basic teas worked as an introduction to the teas but as they drank the teas they will naturally begin to see where the teas fall short and will start buying the more flavorful teas that express characteristics more true to the individual tea.