In his own words, Mr. Zhou describes making black tea and sheng pu’er in Qianjiazhai with the Zhenyuan Dongsa farmers’ cooperative.
While all black tea is oxidized, most modern Chinese black teas – from popular modern Dian Hong Yunnan Black to Laoshan Black – are ultimately finished over heat to dry the tea and stop further chemical changes to the leaf.
While this kind of black tea is certainly produced in Ailao Shan and on its surrounding peaks, the Zhenyuan Dongsa cooperative in Qianjiazhai make a distinctiion between this modern black tea and their preferred, more rustic style. While kao hong (烤红 ) is finally dried and finished by applying heat (either over a fire or with the use of electricity), shai hong (晒红) is dried only with heat from the sun, with no additional artificial heat sources.
After picking and rolling, the leaves are spread into thicker piles and allowed to oxidize in the sun. Once oxidized, the leaves are then spread out thinly to dry in the sun.
As Mr. Zhou explains: “However much moisture the tea wants to release, that is how much evaporates…. If you roast it at high temperatures, you are changing what it wants. The tea wants to hold on to a little moisture, but the [high] heat forces it out.”
You could say shai hong falls somewhere between black tea and sheng pu’er mao cha. Because of this unique, old and rustic processing style, Mr. Zhou and his teachers – the oldest members of the cooperative – will age their shai hong black tea just like sheng pu’er, and enjoy the changing flavor over many years.
As Mr. Zhou says: “It basically still is sheng pu’er. The longer it ages, the better it is going to taste.”
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