In his own words, Master Zhang speaks about the craft that goes into making Anxi Oolong teas. From the technical processes to watching the weather, Master Zhang explains that – no matter what – you have to work according to the tea.
The process of making tieguanyin is bringing the tea back and forth between withered and alive.
Why do you have to do this back and forth?
The process of bringing it back from the brink eliminates bitterness and astringency
First, you pick the tea leaves, and they are firm and hard.
You let them wither out in the sun, and they “die” – they become soft.
Then you bring them in and spread them out, and they slowly come back to life.
When they are alive again, you shake the leaves.
When you tumble them, they come back.
After tumbling, the leaves need to be spread out, because after tumbling, the tea is alive. It coaxes the moisture in the stems into the outer part of the leaves. When the moisture goes out to the leaves, the tea becomes firm again, alive again. Then you let it sit until the moisture evaporates and the leaves “die” again.
So when you think the moisture has gone down, you tumble it a second time.
After the second time – the second time, you tumble it more.
The third time can be even stronger.
By the time you get to the fourth or fifth tumbling, you have to watch closely. You have to check the stem moisture. When it is almost there, you have to continously check while tumbling vigorously until the moisture content is right.
Then you can heat-fix the tea.
Usually, it takes from picking one day to fixing the next day.
While many will answer the question of “how do you make oolong tea?” with a flow chart of simple steps following logically, without change, onto the next step, the reality is actually much more complex. Differences in weather, cultivar, and the goals of the craftsman all contribute to subtle processing differences required for every tea.
When you’re working in tea, you have to work according to the tea. You have to constantly think of the tea.
First, you have to think about the weather.
Second, you have to think about the tea leaves themselves.
You have to work together with the tea.
Look to the sky and look to the leaves.
This is critical.
There isn’t one rigid process you can follow.
Yes – the steps are:
Pick the tea.
Spread the tea.
Shake the tea.
Rest the tea, shake the tea, rest the tea.
Fix the tea, shape the tea.
These are the necessary steps.
Then you have to heat and dry the tea.
Then you have to package the tea.
But to produce quality tea, you have to look to the weather.
You have to look to the leaves.
Want to learn more about the regional differences in processing and finishing oolong teas in China?