As you can see, tea growers in today's Japan don't pick the tea by hand—not unless they're growing ultra-premium tea that would cost an arm and a leg. Besides, hand-picking doesn't enhance the flavor anyway. In Japan, hand-picking is a marketing ploy; in a low-wage country, it's because human labor is cheaper than using machines.
What makes a good green tea are the right climate and soil, a good-quality variety of tea plant, proper care during the growing season and the dormant season, how promptly after harvest the tea is processed (the longer it sits around, the more oxidation occurs), how the tea is processed, and how the tea is stored before being shipped out.
For instance, at the Nagata Chaen, the Nagata family harvests on a given day only as much as they can process at the end of the day, so that none of the "raw" tea leaves sit in storage overnight. That's what assures a fresh, earthy taste in the tea, and what protects the disease-fighting antioxidants from oxidation, which begins as soon as the leaves are picked.
We'll talk about the other tea-quality factors over the coming days. Stay tuned!
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