What is plucking?
Plucking is done when the tea bush “flushes” or pushes out new leaf shoots. In some places, such as northern India and China, plucking takes place in the growing season, between spring and autumn, as the weather varies throughout the year. In places where the weather is more constant, such as Kenya, plucking can take place all year round.
The quality of tea is related to the number of buds and leaves plucked. For a fine black or green tea, the pluckers will take the first two leaves and one new bud. For oolong teas, the bud along with three or four leaves are plucked. The fewer the leaves, and the smaller and more delicate those leaves are, the more bushes required to be plucked to produce a kilogram of tea. As such, smaller and fewer leaves means a more expensive tea.
Plucking can generally be categorized as follows:
Fine: two leaves and a bud (and at times, just the bud, for very fine teas)
Medium: three leaves and a bud
Coarse: four leaves and a bud- but is often mixed in with shoots that have two or three leaves and a bud. As such, the plucking is less selective, faster, and more productive.
As well, some tea is harvested mechanically, but this inevitably contains more large leaves and stalk, so the tea is of poorer quality.