N? h?o, dear tea lovers
Like promised I finally translated the the second part of the travelogue from Fenghuang. While the focus in the first part was mainly on harvest, I focus now on production of Dan Con Oolong.
The harvested and sun bathed tea leaves are moved inside for further wilting under controlled conditions. For this purpose, the tea leaves are spread on handy bamboo trays which are stacked in racks. It is very important that the air can circulate between the tea leaves. The tea master shows us how to optimally distribute the tea leaves. Gently, and with full attention. Almost zen like.
The student follows meticulous all instructions of the tea master. Nevertheless, here and there, the tea master intervenes or gives valuable tips.
While we distribute the tea leaves unwanted components, such as stems, are removed.
The bamboo trays are pushed into the rack and the tea leaves are left to wilt again. From time to time the tea master will check to see if the tea leaves are ready to turn over. This is necessary about every one to one and a half hours. The right moment is given by smell, feel or look of the tea leaves. This step requires a lot experience as it will affect the teas quality.
During the wilt process I use my spare time to take a few night shots. I can’t sleep anyway because of the excitement although I have been traveling for 48 hours without significant sleep.
Meanwhile, the tea master spends his time drinking tea. In Chaozhou, tea is poured without a fairness pot directly into the teacups. The cups are filled with circling, fast moves so that each cup contains the same content. This technique is a bit lavish in my opinion as a lot tea is wasted that way but after all, tea is abundant in Fenghuang. One more thing about Chaozhou style: The Gaiwans here are very small, about 120cl or even smaller and filled to the top with tea leaves which are then infused several times.
After a while, it’s time to “wake up” the tea leaves. This is done by turning the tea leaves gently. This opens the veins in the tea leaves and the contained juice can continue to evaporate. This is necessary to keep the wilting process ongoing. This step is repeated several times throughout the night until the tea leaves are ready for the next step.
Towards the end of the wilting process, the tea leaves are vigorously shaken. For this purpose, another method is used. Again, it shows who is the master. All tea leaves land in the middle of the tea tray.
Meanwhile, half of the scholar tea leaves end up on the ground. Luckily, these are not super expansive Lao Cong or Wudong tea leaves.
Presumably, this why the tea master let me try as well.
At the end of the wilting process, the tea leaves are wrapped with blankets to start the oxidation process. Possibly, this also a fermentation process because the tea leaves get noticeably warm.
The last step before heating: The veins of the tea leaves are broken in the big bamboo drum in order to stop the wilting process.
The bamboo drum is filled by the tea master himself. And again, unwanted stems are removed also in this step. In the drum, the tea leaves are then spinned for about twenty minutes. The duration also depends on experience and the tea master checks the tea leaves regularly. Towards the end, the inspection intervals increase significantly.
In the hot air oven, the tea leaves are heated in order to make them soft and supple for the kneading process.
The leaves are rolled in the kneader to break the cell walls. The leaves are noticeably stronger rolled than in Wuyi.
There is not much to say about the kneaded tea leaves. Except maybe that they are a bit sticky.
There is also for separating and distributing of the tea leaves a separate machine. With high-quality and thus expensive tea leaves this step is made entirely by hand.
The tea leaves are roasted in a wood stove to stop further oxidation. The parameters (temperature and time) for the roasting is determined by the tea master according to his experience.
In the wood stove is enough space for several bamboo trays.
After baking, the tea looks like this. This level is called mao cha (raw tea) because it’s still unsorted and therefore full of stems and huang pian (yellow leaves). In addition, the tea must be roasted several times before it is completed.
At the end of a long night (meanwhile it’s day again) the fresh produced mao cha is tasted. It tastes to me more like a green tea than a oolong. That’s because the final result can be seen only after repeated roasting.
More about Phoenix oolong in the third part: Teamania in Fenghuang – Trip to Wudong.