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The Seasons of Tea

One of the gratifying aspects of tea culture is the way it connects you to the seasons. As the seasons change so do your own tastes and needs, and nature provides by making just the right tea available to hit the spot. That’s not to say that you can’t drink any tea any time, but speaking for myself, there are times of the year and weather conditions that make me crave one type of tea and lose interest in another as the months go by, and discovering that there’s usually a new tea in the teahouse that matches my latest whim is all part of the pleasure.

Unlike the calendar year, the tea year starts in March, when the dormant plants reinvigorate and produce the first delicious shoots. Here in San Francisco, winter is damp, dark, and chilly. More often than not, during winter we’re drinking a warming, aged purée. The earthy complexity of these teas seems like the perfect complement to the season when tea plants are resting and taking in nutrients after a long year of producing leaves.

In the spring, everything changes. The sun comes out, days become longer than nights, and tea plants are bursting with fresh growth. Delicate green teas full of the powerful vigor of new life entice the palate, suddenly making winter favorites seem tired and heavy. Light, elegant porcelain gaiwans become the teaware of choice. Later in spring, as the season matures, more green tea choices appear, their robust leaves packed with chlorophyll in response to long days full of sunshine.

I love green tea season, but it only lasts a short time—that’s part of why it’s so precious. Summer’s heat and intense sun (paradoxically accompanied by slowly shortening days) nurture varieties with larger, tougher leaves that have an astonishing fruit and floral essence, such as the delightful spectrum of oolongs. By mid-summer you’ll find me drinking Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin from an oolong-friendly zhu ni teapot. As the season evolves into autumn I’ll move to Wu Yi Yan Cha and return to zi sha teaware. Then winter sets in and I’m once again drawn to the nurturing comfort of puerh.

Some people have a favorite tea they drink all year round, but if you get in touch with the seasons of tea and adapt accordingly, you’ll enjoy this always-fascinating beverage all the more.