Single Origin Tea

What is Single Origin Tea? 

Single Origin Tea refers to tea harvested from tea trees and soil native to the region where the tea is grown. Such teas are typically from Single Estate Tea farmers specializing in specific tea production within the area. Generally speaking, Single Origin Tea and Single Estate Tea are synonymous, but there are slight differences.

Examples of Single Origin Tea

The most popular single origin tea is Puerh tea. Puerh tea growing is almost entirely exclusive to Yunnan, China where the tea trees originate. The only exception is surrounding Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand where before the early 2000s certain varieties of Puerh tea trees made their way out of Yunnan.

Puerh tea trees are also a different kind of camellia sinensis tea tree with broader leaves called Dayeh. Only in Yunnan do these tea trees grow and it is very difficult for them to survive in climates or regions outside Yunnan. Local Puerh tea makers in Yunnan emphasize the soil, climate, and unique tea trees native to the area all play a role.

Examples of Non Single Origin Teas

The most common examples of non-native tea production include Green tea and Oolong tea production in Indonesia and Vietnam. These 2 are typically multi origin developed since most production uses trees originating from China or Taiwan. Most big brands use such teas for their products since they can get the crops and local labor at a cheaper cost. Some Chinese will even go so far as to say the tea maker needs to be from the area where the tea is grown for it to be single origin.

Another example is Puerh tea production in Taiwan where Puerh tea trees originating in Yunnan’s Gaoligong Mountain are used. Taiwan has tried to reproduce Puerh tea making but without success. There are Puerh tea trees in Taiwan, but the leaves are used for large leaf black tea making.

Overall, the tea world has seen non single origin tea production occurring more and more throughout areas such as Indonesia and Vietnam. Since 2020 in particular, more and more farmers are exporting tea trees from Taiwan to southeast Asia where labor is cheaper and higher quality is less of a concern. This trend has been largely driven due to bubble tea demand, with brands prioritizing pricing over quality.

Single Origin vs. Single Estate Tea

For the most part, Single Estate implies Single Origin. However, Single Estate Tea refers to tea grown at one tea farm with the guidance of one main farmer or family. It is technically possible that such farmers have imported tea trees and are supervising the growth and harvest of a custom crop. We see this occurring with attempted green tea production in Taiwan beyond just Biluochun varirties.

Most farmers in general specialize in one tea type production within one area. For example, Yunnan farmers will use their crops to grow Puerh or even black teas from trees that grow naturally within the area. The same goes for many green tea trees throughout Zhejiang Province in China. In Taiwan, farmers tend to use the same tea crops to produce both Oolongs and Black teas.

Note – it is possible to consider a tea as Single Origin and Single Estate even if young or old tea trees have been replanted. Sometimes it is necessary to take trees and root them in different areas if the farmer feels it is necessary for producing a certain crop. Those plants will need to be native from the area and the same soil will need to be used, however.

FAQ: Is Single Origin Teas Better?

Single Origin Teas are almost always better tasting and have higher quality. They grow in accordance with what nature allows within a given environment. Such teas generally have a better aroma, overall returning sweetness and Tea Qi.

A Step by Step Guide to Acquiring Single Origin Tea

  1. Known your tea source. Inquire with your tea dealer as to whether the teas being imported are grown from trees and soil native to the region. If it is a large brand, chances are they will not reveal this information.
  2. One secret that we have found that is very telling the quality of a tea is whether or not it has good Cha Qi, aka “Tea Qi.” For a tea to have good Qi, it is almost always Single Origin. That is because the roots have had time to dig deep into the soil and gather nutrients and energy that produce the warming and tingling sensation found in Qi Tea. We have never tasted a good Qi Tea from a big brand.
  3. Examine the color of the tea leaves. Single Origin crops produce deeper and overall richer colors.
  4. The tea liquor should be transparent. High quality, Single Origin teas all have a transparent look when poured. Dense, almost muddy looking teas indicate they are lower quality and most likely big batch selections that don’t fit guidelines.