Firing and shaping the tea leaves by hand
To be able to appreciate the aroma and flavor of tea from little sips is a great pleasure; to understand a little of the art of tea manufacture definitely enhances the experience of drinking.
In general, green teas are produced by one of four methods: pan-firing, oven-drying, sun-drying and steaming (炒青、烘青、曬青和蒸青). Each of these methods incorporates the same underlying processes: plucking, primary drying (called sha qing [lit: "killing the green"] in Chinese), rolling, and drying (採摘, 殺青、揉捻、乾燥).
|A nice tea education (It reminds me of my childhood)|
2. Primary Drying
This process is the key to maintaining the natural green color of the tea leaves and liquor. Heat (either dry heat from a pan, tumbler or oven, or steam - which is commonly used in Japan) is applied to arrest any further activity of the enzymatic compounds in the primary leaf and thereby prevent oxidation. This process not only keeps the leaves green, but also increases leaf flexibility, thereby creating a better condition for the next procedure - rolling. Moreover, it helps to remove any grassy odor from the tea and enhance its fragrance.
A special high-grade green tea must be produced by hand in a basket or large wok, but most green teas produced commercially are made largely by machine.
3. Rolling - Shaping
This process imparts a distinctive shape (such as flat or twisted) to the tea leaves and breaks the cell walls inside each leaf, to reduce the bitterness and astringency of the tea.
This not only removes the moisture from the tea leaves, but also stabilizes the shape, appearance and quality of the tea, and helps to develop its aroma.
There are three common ways to dry green tea in China: pan-firing, oven-drying and sun-drying. The most famous pan-fired green teas are Longjing (龙井) and Biluochun (碧螺春), mentioned above. The most famous oven-dried green teas are Huangshan Maofeng (黄山毛峰 "Yellow Mountain Fur Peak") and Taiping Houkui (太平猴魁 "Great Peaceful Monkey Chief"). A typical Sun-dried green tea is Dian Qing (滇青 "Yunnan Green") from Yunnan.
In summary, each of these process can be done by hand, partly by hand and by machine, or entirely by machine. The quality and character of any given tea really depends on the technique and taste of the production master, whether produced by hand or machine. Of course, the best quality tea is usually produced by hand.
Since green tea is a fresh product, it should be enjoyed while it's still fresh and full of the life and art carefully brought out by the artisans who produced it. That's why I'm almost out of mine! I'll just have to survive on Pu'er and Oolong until next spring. Later, I'll write something about how their production is different from that of green tea. Bye for now!