In Taiwan, tea harvest suffers as the climate changes
Drought and heavy rainfall: Chien Shun-yih's tea plantation in Taiwan is severely affected by climate change, it seems. This year, almost half the harvest was lost.
Powerless against the climate
Plantation owner Chien Shun-yih is not satisfied with his harvest this year — extreme weather conditions have destroyed half of his crop. "You just can't control the weather, even when growing tea," he says. But with this DIY water storage tank, for example, he hopes to develop alternative strategies to combat the drought.
Taiwan tea's long tradition
Tea has been grown in the mountains around Meishan since the 19th century. Shun-yih took over the plantation three years ago after the death of his father. A lot has changed even since then, and over the years it has become increasingly important to develop ways to make a good harvest possible despite volatile weather conditions.
Tea workers earn less
Those working to harvest the tea are also directly affected by climate change, as their earnings are calculated by the price per kilogram. "Less harvest, less earnings," they point out. Because tea leaves take longer to grow these days, they now have to go out into the field several times per season.
Water pumps could help
Shun-yih is tireless and always looking for ways to improve the situation. A pipe connected to the water tank allows him to tap pools further away and pump water into storage, allowing him to irrigate the tea plants during more frequent and longer phases of drought.
Climate-related changes bring further challenges. And scientists are trying to help. Pests are a big problem, because drought makes it easier for them to attack the plants. "Pests love the dry and the heat," says government researcher Lin Shiou-ruei. They attack already weakened plants, which "can even lead to the sensitive tea plants dying," she adds.
Climate link not yet proven
Shun-yih, who proudly tours visitors around his plantation, emphasizes repeatedly how dependent the harvest is on the consequences of changing weather conditions. But whether climate change is directly at cause for what is happening in Taiwan's tea country has not yet been definitively demonstrated.
Freshly harvested tea
Shun-yih and his team allow the freshly harvested tea leaves to dry naturally in the strong Taiwanese sun. Wherever he can, he lends a helping hand himself. The most important thing to do: Stay positive and hopeful, he believes. After the tea leaves have withered in the sun, the next step is fermentation.
The color has to be just right
During fermentation, timing is absolutely critical. The color of the tea leaves is an indication as to whether their taste is optimal. Artisanal tea production involves a number of further steps before it is ready for consumption.
Smelling the tea
Tea making requires experience — something Shun-yih and his team have many years of. An experienced tea grower can smell whether the tea is ready. Although the finished product requires a long and involved technique, there is strong hope that this tradition will continue to live on — despite the changing weather.