The first step of producing tea is to pick off the buds or leaves from tea trees.
Generally speaking, the tea can be divided into two types: bud and leaf tea. Bud tea use bud as the main raw material, and leaf tea use leaves as the main raw material.
Because buds are new, the bud tea is tender. However, except the best whole bud tea, some common bud tea contains some of old or new tea leaves, so the bud and leaf tea is different in the degree of freshness. In general, the higher the proportion of buds and tender the leaves, the higher the quality of tea. Yet there is some tea whose content is particularly made of old tea leaves, such as Huangpian, Tie Kwan-yin, ect.
Airing and withering
The steps following picking to produce tea depends on the tea of different kinds.
For non-fermented tea, the next step is fixation. Fixation is divided into steaming and stir fixation. Sun drying precedes, that is, to lay the fresh tea leaves for some time to evaporate some water.
For fermented and partially fermented tea, the fresh tea leaves should be withered first. Withering is done outdoor or indoor. Outdoor withering is to place tea in the sun to dry it, (when the sunlight is too strong, tea leaves should be on the shadowy areas), until it is softened, then it will be moved to the room for indoor withering.
During withering, the leaves should be stirred from time to time. At first, the purpose to stir the tea is to make the moisture in the tea evaporate evenly; later stir it more frequently and move dynamically. Apart from the evaporation of water, it is necessary to make friction between the leaves to promote oxidation.
Fixation comes next to picking and drying, and it divides into steaming and stir fixation. Steaming is used to be the main way, but now stir fixation has become the mainstream. Stir fixation makes tea more fragrant, and steaming makes tea greener.
Fixation aims to continue to evaporate the moisture of tea, to damage the enzyme activity in the leaves, and to produce fragrance. The pot temperature is a key factor to fixation. When it is low, the enzyme will be more active than in room temperature, so the colorless polyphenols in tea will rapidly oxidize, which makes the tea red; when it is too high, the tea will be burnt.
The next step to fixation or withering is rolling. In this process, the integrity of the leaves is damaged, resulting in their active ingredients easier to leach when brewing. Meanwhile, the shape of tea becomes tight from loose in rolling, good for preservation. In addition, different flavors are created by various rolling forms.
There are cold rolling and hot rolling, the former is done after cooling the leaves through fixation while hot rolling is done after fixation. The former is appropriate for tender leaves, because there are more water-soluble pectin contents in it and it is easy to form strip; hot rolling is appropriate to old leaves, because the coarse old leaves form strips easily when they are soft and hot, meanwhile with less broken foam. Rolling is an important step to make the shape of tea leaves. By strength rolling is divided into soft rolling, medium rolling, and hard rolling. Soft rolling makes the strip, needle-like tea. When rolling is too soft, the tea will easily maintain the original shape. Medium rolling and hard rolling make the hemispherical and spherical shape of tea.
For the fermented tea and partially fermented tea, the next step after rolling is fermentation. Fermentation is to put the rolling tea leaves in a specially-made plate in a certain thickness so that the chemical composition in the tea leaves will undergo a series of oxidation reactions in aerobic conditions, and change the quality of tea. In the fermentation process, colorless polyphenols will eventually transform into tea flavins and tea red pigment and color, smell, taste of tea will be changed. With the deepening of fermentation, tea will turn from green to yellow green, then green yellow, yellow red, and even black red. Grass fragrance is transferred into flower fragrance, and ten fruit fragrance, and finally ripe fruit fragrance. The fresh natural flavor gradually shifts to the mellow artificial flavor.
Most tea needs drying. There are fried drying, heated drying, and sun drying, etc., each with different characteristics. for example, fixation, rolling and drying all completed in the pot, but White Pekoe Sliver Needle is directly dried or dried after being spread in thin.
Fried drying is characterized by the contact of tea and the heated solid surface (such as the pot shell), making tea with strong fragrance; heated drying is characterized by the contact of tea and hot air, making the tea has intact tea buds; sun drying is characterized by the contact of tea leaves and sunlight, making tea with a special flavor.
Pressing is a necessary step for the condensed tea. Take puerh tea as example, this tea was compressed in a tea factory where stone presses were used. Low temperature “baking” was used to dry these cakes after the compression process thus preserving their integrity! Normally we have delayed sales of this cake for 2 weeks or longer to allow the water vapor from pressing to dissipate. Further aging will only improve this wonderful tea!