At the proper time for gathering the leaves, those persons, who have a great many shrubs, hire daily labourers, who make it their particular business, and are very dextrous at it.
For as the leaves must not be tore off by handfuls, but carefully pluck’d, one by one, their own domesticks, not being used to this work, would scarce be able to gather three Catti’s a man in a day’s time, whereas these people, who are bred up to it, and must get their livelihood by it, will bring it to nine or ten.
The leaves are not gather’d all at once, but at different times. Those who pluck their shrubs thrice a year, begin their first gathering towards the latter end of the month Songuats, which is the first month of the Japanese year, and begins with the new moon next preceding the Spring Equinox, whether it falls upon the latter end of February, or the beginning of March. The shrub then bears but a few leaves, which are very tender and young, and not yet fully open’d as being scarce above two or three days growth.
But these small and tender leaves are also reckoned the best of all, and because of their scarcity and price disposed of only to Princes and rich people, for which reason they are call’d Imperial Tea, and by some the flower of Tea.
(I cannot but take notice in this place of a mistake of some authors, who asserted, that the petala of the flowers are gathered by the Japanese, and made use of in the very same manner as the leaves of the Plant itself: I found this upon enquiry to be absolutely false, and take the error to be owing either to the ignorance of travellers, or to a wrong application of the name of Tea flower, which, as I just now observ’d, hath been given to this particular and scarce sort of Tea.)
The Theh Buu of the Chinese belongs to this same Class, I mean that true and good one, which is scarce and dear even in the Country.
The second gathering, (and the first of those who gather but twice a year) is made in the second Japanese month, about the latter end of March, or the beginning of April: some of the leaves are then already come to perfection, others are but half grown, both are pluck’d off promiscuously, though afterwards, before they make them undergo the usual preparation, care is taken to sort them into Classes, according to their size and goodness.
The leaves of this second gathering, which are not full grown, come nearest to those of the first gathering, for which they are frequently sold, and on this account separated with care from the coarser and larger ones The third (and second of others) and last gathering, which is also the most plentiful, is made in the third Japanese month, when the leaves are come to their full growth, both in number and largeness.
Some neglect the two former gatherings, and entirely confine themselves to this. The leaves of this gathering are sorted again, according to their size and goodness, into different classes, which the Japanese call Itziban, Niban and Sanban, that is, the first, second and third, the last of which contains the coarsest leaves of all, which are full two months grown, and are the Tea commonly drank by the vulgar.
Japanese Tea: history of Darma
Japanese Tea: manner of cultivating the Tea in Japan
Japanese Tea: gathering of the tea leaves
Japanese Tea: chief different sorts of tea
Japanese Tea: tea for the Emperor’s court
Japanese Tea: use of the tea
Source: Engelbert Kaempfer: The History of Japan, London 1727
Photo: Ukiyo-e print, internet
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