How Chinese Style Tea is Produced:
Processing the Five Major Chinese Tea Types
|Silver Needles - White Tea||Ya Bao - Wild White Tea||Snow Dragon - Crafted White Tea|
White Tea: White
teas are essentially unprocessed. The tea leaves are simply picked and
air dried. Different combinations of sunlight and or low heat are
sometimes used to aid the drying process if weather conditions are not
optimal at the time of harvest. White teas like Silver Needles are
composed entirely of the young buds that are covered in tiny hairs from
the tea plants, while Pai Mu Tan style white teas have some buds in them
but are composed mainly of large more developed tea leaves. These teas
are quite beautiful to look at and tend to be very smooth, light, and
delicate in flavor.
|Jade Dragon - Yunnan Green Tea||Jin Xuan - Taiwan Green Tea||Jasmine Pearls - Scented Green Tea|Green
Tea: Chinese style green teas involve a little bit more processing than
their white counterparts.
- Withering: The green tea leaves are picked and withered slightly either in
the sun, in a heated space, or just at room temperature until the
leaves lose about 20% of their moisture content. Tea leaves fresh from
the trees are very brittle, so this step makes the leaves much more
supple and allows them to be handled without incurring much breakage.
- Sha Qing (kill
green): Next the tea leaves are cooked in some way to deactivate
the enzymes that would
otherwise oxidize & turn the tea leaves brown in color. Oxidation
is a vital component in the production of black and oolong teas, but not
in green tea production; so, the oxidizing enzymes must be neutralized
in order to preserve the green color and unique flavor of the tea
leaves. In the case of Chinese green teas, Sha Qing is almost always
performed in a dry, relatively low temperature wok, and it is sometimes
referred to as pan firing, wok firing or pan frying.
After the enzymes in the leaves are neutralized, the teas are shaped
either by machine or by hand into the many different shapes that green
teas can take.
The tea is then dried and is ready to send to the market. Green teas are
consumed relatively quickly after harvest because the attractive
qualities of these fresh teas dissipate quickly.
From a processing standpoint oolongs are somewhere between
green and black teas. Oolong is the most labor intensive of the types of tea, and the most
highly prized oolongs are processed only by very experienced tea
masters. Oolong tea is a huge topic because of the many different styles
that are produced. The specific varietals of the Camellia Sinensis (tea
plant) used in traditional oolong teas come from Fujian and Guangdong
provinces in mainland China, but these oolong varietals are cultivated
in many other parts of the world today. The general consensus is that
the best oolongs come from Fujian and Guangdong on the mainland, and
also from Taiwan, where oolong teas are somewhat of a regional
- Withering: They are picked and withered about like green
teas, but the firing step is delayed until later.
- Bruising/Shaking & Oxidation: After withering, the
tea leaves are rolled or shaken to bruise the edges of the leaves and to
release some of the enzymes in the leaves. The release of the enzymes
starts the oxidation process. When these enzymes are exposed to oxygen
they begin to turn brown in color, much like when an apple is cut open
and the flesh begins to turn brown when exposed to the air. This process
of oxidation in oolongs is what really brings out their unique flavors
and requires the experience of the tea masters to judge when the teas
are actually ready. A complex process of further rolling or shaking
along with slow and low temperature drying steps takes place until the
tea master decides that the tea has oxidized to the point that he or she
deems appropriate to the style being produced.
- Sha Qing (Kill Green): Once the desired
oxidation level is achieved, the tea is then fired to stop the tea from
- Drying: Then it is completely dried and in some cases is
ready for consumption. The number of oolong tea styles is huge because
of the many variables used in processing. They can be very green in
color or look almost like a black tea. They can be very tightly rolled
little balls or long twisty stripe shaped leaves.
Roasting oolong teas performs several functions. Primarily, roasting
acts as a way of preserving the tea leaves for future consumption. At
its most basic level, roasting simply forces the moisture out of the
leaves which could otherwise facilitate spoilage through fungal or
bacterial growth. The happy byproduct of this purely functional aspect
of roasting is the creation of complex flavor compounds through the
modification and/or caramelization of proteins in the tea leaves.
Greener style oolongs such as the the famous High Mountain oolongs from
Taiwan can be roasted for a short amount of time simply to create a
balance between flavor and aroma or emphasize desirable flavors and
aromas in the tea leaves. In contrast to their light roasted
counterparts, darker roasted oolongs such as Traditional Tie Guan Yin
from Taiwan can undergo a multi-step roasting process that takes many
days, weeks or even months to create the desired flavor profiles.
- Aging (Optional): Many tea masters will age a portion
of their teas, and aged oolongs are some of the most prized and hardest
to find teas around. Aging oolongs is very different from aging pu-erh
teas because the oolongs are kept in tightly sealed jars and are low
temperature roasted periodically to drive out any moisture that
accumulates in the leaves.
|Jinggu Gold Buds-Yunnan Black Tea||Imperial Dian Hong-Yunnan Black Tea||Ruby Black Tea-Taiwan Black Tea|
Black Tea: Black tea is the type of tea that people in the
west are most familiar with. Black teas are fully oxidized teas, meaning
that the enzymes in the tea leaves turn the leaves completely brown
during the processing. The teas are picked and withered like the other
types of tea. Then they are either hand rolled or machine rolled to
crush all of the cell walls in the leaves and release the enzymes that
promote oxidation. The teas are then left to oxidize completely or to
turn brownish black in color. Once the leaves have completely oxidized,
they are then roasted to deactivate the enzymes and to dry the leaves.
Properly handled black teas can be kept fresh for about two years after
harvest without losing much quality, which is why black tea became
popular in the west. It could withstand the long journey from China and
later India and Sri Lanka without a discernable loss of quality, while
green teas could not. Black teas are produced in many parts of the world
today, most notably in India, Sri Lanka, parts of Africa, and South
America. Most of the production is done by machine using the British
developed "CTC" method or Crush, Tear, Curl, which yields a very
consistent and finely chopped end product that looks a bit like coarsely
ground coffee. CTC teas are commonly found in teabags under various
brand names. The highest quality black teas are not CTC teas (though
some CTC teas can be excellent), but are referred to as orthodox teas,
meaning that the leaf structures (and more of the desirable complex
flavors) are preserved during production. High quality black teas like
the highly sought after teas from the Darjeeling region of India are
almost always produced in the orthodox fashion.
information on Pu-Erh tea see our Pu-Erh Tea Info section