Tea Plucking: From Handpicking to Automated Machines

Tea has been a beloved beverage for centuries, and traditionally, it was harvested by hand. However, the end of the Meiji era and the beginning of the Taisho era saw the emergence of plucking tools. In the second year of the Taisho era, Ryohei Uchida invented and introduced the first scissors-like plucking tool in Kikugawacho of Shizuoka, which soon became popular due to its productivity. With this new tool, teas could be harvested 5-10 times faster than by handpicking. In the hands of a skilled worker, the tea picked by the tool was of comparable quality to handpicked tea.

In the 1950s, the first automatic tea plucking machine was invented, and as a result, the number of tea farmers using machines for their harvest increased rapidly. The productivity of the new machines was 2-3 times greater than the former scissors-like plucking tools. In the late 1960s, a new type of tea plucking machine was developed, designed to be used by two people who work as a pair. Although it requires two people to operate, it is highly productive, flexible, and reasonably priced. Today, this type of plucking machine is still the most popularly used.

In the early 1970s, the automobile-style tea plucker was introduced. This machine was designed to stride over the tea bush and was operated by a person. It was highly productive and enabled a 10-acre farm to be harvested in just 10 hours. This type of machine is widely used in flat-area tea estates, particularly in Kagoshima prefecture. Currently, more than 1000 automobile-style pluckers are in use in South Kyushu, and more than 10 are used in Shizuoka, where they were introduced in 1963. Currently, studies are underway to develop smaller-sized automobile-style pluckers.

From 1989, newly developed full-automatic tea pluckers using a rail system were introduced for large tea estates of 190 hectares or more. These machines run on rails along the tea bushes and pluck the tea. Although they don’t require two people for operation, the productivity is slightly less than the movable plucker. Additionally, there is a robot that goes along the tea bush and operates the plucking machine. The evolution of tea plucking has come a long way since handpicking, and the modern machines have enabled tea production to become more efficient and productive.

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