Three basic stages of making Chinese green teas:
- Evaporating ‘greenness’: a process using high temperature to stop the functions of enzymes naturally contained in the fresh green tea leaves. This will prevent future oxidization of the Polyphenons. At the same time, it also evaporates a certain amount of moisture in the fresh tea leaves together with specific flavonoids (ones which evaporate at low temperatures) to enhance the aroma of the tea. During this process, the fresh green tea leaves will wither and become soft.
- Shaping: a step using external force (through tea makers’ hands or machines) to turn green tea into their final shapes, such as needle, flat, curled or other specific shapes.
- Dehydrating: the final stage is to extract more than 90% of the moisture from the tea leaves to maximise the aroma of the tea. This step could be done by baking, roasting or sun-drying depending on individual types.
Hand making Chinese green tea:
Most of the premium Chinese green teas are not only harvested by hand, but also roasted by hand.
This a typical account of a day in a tea producing family’s life in Dong Shan, which is famous for its production of the highest quality Bi Luo Chun green tea.
Wang Ping is in her mid 20s and newly married. She has a university degree, but has come back from the city office, where she normally works, to assist her parents during the tea harvest season. For as long as she can remember, she has been getting up early each morning to go to the hill behind the family home, where their Bi Luo Chun plantation is, to harvest the tea leaves during the spring - in rain or shine, school day or not. By lunch time, the three generations of the females in the family (grandmother, mother and two young daughters) will sit down and sort the leaves they have picked that morning, one by one. They pluck only the top 2-3 leaves including the bud and take the rest out, as the bigger leaves will add a rougher texture and bitter taste to the tea produced.
Once the fresh green tea leaves are sorted (some time in the afternoon), the roasting begins. The premium tea leaves are always roasted by the most experienced member of the family, in this case the mother. The process lasts about 20 minutes. The tea roasting wok is placed on a gas stove and the mother starts by putting the fresh green tea leaves in while the wok is gently heated. The temperature is adjusted constantly, according to her instructions, by a second person. While she skilfully and continuously tosses the tea leaves in the wok, the temperature goes up and down according to requirements. Her personal experience from many years of green tea making enables her hands to be able to sense and direct the right temperature for the entire process: enough to dehydrate but not too much to burn. In this case, all three basic steps take place at her hands, within a wok.
While the tea is being roasted, the room is filled with the aroma of Bi Luo Chun, a sensational experience that is hard to forget!
The children of the family are encouraged to make green teas harvested at the end of the season, which are not as highly valued on the market, until they become as experienced as their parents and are able to take over the tea making task of the family.