What do we mean when we refer to different "lots" of tea?
All tea produced is unique to its place and time. A tea produced in spring is not the same tea produced in the fall, even if they are using the exact plants/garden/person/equipment/technique. The spring tea is the “spring lot” and the fall tea is the “fall lot.” This can be even more specific to teas made a week apart (as opposed to seasons). The important takeaway is that a “lot” is a distinction – 2020 Red Dawn and 2021 Red Dawn are distinct “lots” of tea. All other facets are near identical, except they were made one year apart. No matter how similar they are in every other way, they are different.
The primary difference between the 2020 and 2021 lots of Red Dawn teas is the age of the leaf. The 2020 lot was picked on March 22, but in 2021 on March 16, making this year’s lot a younger leaf. Though it may not sound like much, each day brings gradual chemical change to the sprouting leaves which will affect the outcome when harvested for production. The increased proteins, polyphenols, and caffeine in these younger leaves tend to produce a more vigorous mouthfeel, but lack some of the aromatics that more mature leaves can produce. The sole reason they picked a younger leaf in 2021 – weather. The forecast predicted rain, so they took the best opportunity presented to them. But younger leaves cost more, so you’re getting the expensive stuff.
Comparing the 2020 and 2021 lot side by side – the 2020 lot is lighter, but has better aromatic sweetness. The 2021 is thicker with a more satisfying mouthfeel. The sweet aromatics are definitely present in 2021, but not as pronounced as the 2020 lot. The younger leaves also have a tendency to be much more astringent that older leaves, but this is muted by the cloth-wrap oxidation and a special “post-roasting” craft (usually used in oolong tea making) which will not only smooth out the rough edges, but bring forth and fine tune cultivar-specific aromas.
Some might consider these two vintages of tea very similar and they would not be wrong. The only significant difference is the calendar year the leaves were picked, but that’s the point. Nothing in nature can be perfectly replicated and the Chinese method of making tea lets nature play its role. The degree to which the differences between lots may be judged as subtle or substantial is determined by the lens through which you’re viewing it. Whether those differences be big or small, it’s our job to notice and point them out as best we can.