Harvesting is the operation in which the tender tea shoots are picked, which generally termed as “plucking”. A tea shoot at the correct maturity for the manufacture of high quality made tea, comprises of an unfurled bud with two or three soft leaves.
The correct proportions and concentrations of chemical compounds and enzymes which synthesize poly-phenolic structures in made tea, occur in fresh tea leaves at that correct maturity.
On the other hand, hard fibrous parts in tea shoot is getting higher with the maturity. If the shoots are over grown, it will sure decrease the out turn and increase waste tea in manufacture. The quality and the quantity of made tea will be, thus, determined by the maturity of the shoots being plucked.
Therefore, it is extremely important to strictly adhere to the correct maturity of tea shoots as it determines the quality and the quantity of the made tea and hence, the profitability of the tea plantations.
Thorough understanding on the severity, standard and interval of tea harvesting will be resulted in high quality fresh shoots being plucked. These terms will be clearly discussed, later in this page.
Most of the tea farmers or land owners practice manual harvesting. Being the most labour intensive practice consuming approximately 50%-60% of the total labour requirement in tea field operations, harvesting contributes about 25%-30% of the cost of production (COP) in Sri Lanka.
Mechanical harvesting appears in practice when the labour scarcity is experienced. Though it is apparently increases the labour productivity, it highly affects the productivity of the tea bushes and quality of made tea in tropical countries where a well distributed rainfall and year-round sunlight received. The main reason for this kind of consequence is non-selective harvesting which ruins the tea bush by affecting sink source connection of the carbohydrates produced in the leaves.
Handling and care of fresh leaves after harvesting is as important as the correct maturity for the quality of made tea and profitability, since careless handling and transport will add impurities and damage the green shoots before they are manufactured and thus, increase post harvesting losses.
Therefore, better understanding about the physiology of tea shoot and post harvest handling and care of fresh leaves will be utterly important for quality made tea and profit maximization.