The art of Oolong Tea making.
In the last blog post where we explored “what exactly is oolong tea?” We learned that the difference between Oolong tea and other non herbal / floral tea (Camellia Sinensis) is the level of oxidation in the tea leaves. We will be exploring more of the Oolong Tea making process and showing you why it's so special.
Aside from the production of the tea, the maintenance aspect of the tea plantation is extremely crucial, and can often be underestimated. Tea farmers are constantly studying, experimenting, and managing different things, such as soil type, acidity, humidity levels, fertilizer types etc.
Since it requires a lot of specialized knowledge to produce the best tea leaves, tea farmers are often not the same as tea makers. Both require very particular mastery in their craft and this division of labor is exactly what makes the tea we drink so unique.
A tea making artisan will make frequent visits to the tea plantations for closeup observations during harvesting season, though each season has its difference and unique properties but one thing in common is that for making the best oolong tea; the optimal timeframe for harvest is often times down to a day or two, and quite commonly down to the hour as well. A tea harvested during the morning period could end up producing an entirely different taste note compared to the same batch of tea that’s harvested in the afternoon instead.
Ultimately, the art of oolong tea making is the balance between oxidation level and the tea leaves’ humidity level, and the difference from a novice tea maker to a master is their ability to “read” the leaves.
Typically the process of oolong tea making consists of up to 9 steps, some specialty ones could even range up to 13 steps. We will share the fundamental 9 steps with you in the following:
- & 5. Fixation & Rolling
By the end of this phase, the tea leaves have generally reached a desired water content, and initial levels of oxidation are set with the tone and taste notes of the tea are predominantly decided.
The repetitive heat treatment will gradually seal and lock up the state of the tea, preventing it from further oxidation.
- Cloth rolling and shaping
By now the oolong tea leaves are rolled into small ball shapes that one can observe within our tea bags. At this phase the tea maker will be able to pick out the undesired stems of the tea plant. De-stemming is an important procedure to the finishing of the tea due to stems not being very flavourful when brewed, and sometimes could even produce undesired taste.
The roasting process here is different to the heat treatment during the fixation process. The main function of roasting is to further secure the tasting notes, and final reduction of humidity to prepare the leaves for storage.
- Special characteristic roast
So there we have it, these are some of the fundamental processes of oolong tea making. In each of the processes mentioned above there are no standard procedures, there are no recipes to follow, as each batch of tea, each day, each season can be different. A true tea making master is one that can “read” the characteristics of the harvested tea and work with it effectively, bringing out the best flavour there is...
That’s it from us for now! Thank you for reading and spending your time with us; go and have yourself a cup of tea!
All Day Tea Club.