A couple of month’s ago Jeff headed off to China, to catch up with our tea masters. Enjoy part 1 of the three part series of his journey.
The first day of my tea study trip included a stop at the Great Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) Tribute Tea Museum in Changxing, a monument built as a replica of the Tang Dynasty’s imperial tea factory. This was followed by a visit to the Purple Bamboo Shoot (Gu Zhu Zi Sun) green tea garden where I met the well respected lady tea master for this high quality organic tea. She later took us to her small factory where we were shown hw the Gu Zhu Zi (Purple Bamboo Shoot) green tea is made – one of the quality organic teas in the Cuppa Cha range. In the afternoon we visited Yi Xing, the city famous for pottery and teapots.
The tea master for Purple Bamboo Shoot green Tea, Pei Hong Feng, led us on a short hike into the forest and up into her tea garden where we met some of her most friendly tea picker friends. They showed us the leaves to select and how to pick them, all whilst taking in the beautiful surroundings.
Armed with the knowledge of picking we were then shown how Purple Bamboo Shoot Green Tea is made in her small factory. This was followed by a scrumptious lunch in the tea master’s family home.
The first phase of the tea production process immediately after picking is withering the leaves. The withering process takes about three hours on average, depending on temperature and humidity conditions. This is to remove surplus moisture whilst preventing the leaves from drying too rapidly. A natural chemical reaction begins during this phase causing enzymes in the leaves to react with oxygen in the air to cause oxydase – rapid increase in the rate of oxidization.
After withering, the leaves are put into steel wok type pans and heated (fried) with coal whilst being stirred to prevent burning. Some of the leaves were put into a cylindrical type rotating chamber and electrically heated at 80 degrees C for approximately 20 minutes to reach the same result as the wok heated leaves. This phase can be repeated as necessary to reduce the moisture content in the leaves sufficiently to allow rolling them into the thin needle-like shape without breaking. It also neutralizes the enzymes that cause oxidization allowing the aromatic qualities to become very noticeable at this point. Between multiple frying the leaves are laid out on bamboo trays to cool.
The next stage was the rolling the leaves into the thin needle-like shape of the Purple Bamboo Shoot Green Tea. This process also breaks down the leaf cell structure releasing oils contained in the leaves thus enhancing the aroma. For this tea, the rolling was done by the machine shown in the photo below. Generally, the top quality tea carried by Cuppa Cha would be hand rolled.
After rolling, the leaves are fired to dry. This process heats them causing the enzymes to lose their potency thus stopping any possible oxidization. Any remaining water in the rolled leaves is lost during this process – approximately 3 to 4 percent of moisture is retained and the aromatic oils become stabilized thereby contributing to the taste.
The final stage of the Purple Bamboo Shoot Green Tea production is sorting. The tea leaves are sifted into sizes for grading and also to remove any that might have broke during the previous processes. Rejected lesser quality and broken leaves are used for tea bags. Teas are then ready for packaging.
After lunch we drove to Yi Xing City, famous for its pottery. Yingxing Clay tea pots also known as Zi Sha Hu (purple sand) tea pots due to this unique clay having a high concentration of iron thereby making it ideal for brewing tea for many centuries. We were privileged to meet a master potter and watched her make a clay tea pot.
Historic artifacts and records say that a monk made the first quality clay tea pot in the 1500s and that clay pottery had been made in Yi Xing since way back in 2500 BC.
Tea experts and lovers of tea will mostly use a Yi Xing clay tea pot because the unglazed stoneware brings out the true flavour of a fine tea. A Yixing tea pot needs to be seasoned to a type of tea and then should be used for that one type of tea only. By seasoning the tea pot to one type of tea will allow the pot to acquire its own seasoned flavour for that tea type.