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From field to factory

I left you in the tea fields of Baiyunshan : from lunch we headed down to the factory.  As mentioned we were going to observe the process for the production of MaoJian green tea.  Green tea contains the youngest buds plucked from the top of the plant and the harvest season lasts for just a month so it was interesting to learn when discussing the grades and pricing of teas that they speak of the tea in terms of the day it was picked - and the price goes down with each subsequent day.  Pretty specific stuff.  We met the tea garden manager at the factory gate, just a few hundred metres from the plantation and off we went.


It was great to see the fresh leaves entering the factory and the process was explained to us in great detail.  I thought you might be interested to learn more so that is what this blog is all about.  From Field to factory.  I also have a great video that I have not been able to upload but please do call into the Tea House and Ill be happy to share.

Step 1 : The Leaves enter the factory and enter the dryer where hot air is used to take the moisture from the tea leaves.  The temperature is critical here - you want, through this process to neutralise the enzymes in the tea leaves - too low and the tea leaves will start to oxidise making a red {black} tea, too high and the young buds will burn.

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Step 2 : For this tea in this particular factory the tea then passes into a second chamber where it was described to me that the tea is 'rebalanced'.  The first drying process may have meant that any remaining moisture is unevenly distributed - this chamber ensures that the drying process is uniform.

Step 3 : Leaf Maceration : This took place over around 30 minutes for this particular tea and is the process by which the leaves are mechanically rolled, pressed, twisted and kneaded.  This process breaks down the structures in the lead cells and promotes oxidation.  This process will determine the flavour and quality of the tea and also start to determine the leaf style.  After this stage you would typically start a prolonged period of fermentation but this does not happen for green tea.  The process from leaf to final dried tea is very fast.
Step 4 : After rolling you need to 'clean up' the tea.  You are essentially left with a mass of bound leaves and the process that we observed afterwards was to separate the leaves through a series of combs and finally by blowing cold air to disrupt the leaves that are stuck together.
Step 5 : The leaves are now moderately heated by blowing hot air through them to stop oxidation and further remove moisture from the leaves.  They are then shaped and placed on a drying table where hot air is again blown through them to reduce the moisture content to less that 3%.
So that is my understanding of the specific process for this specific tea in this specific factory.  The process for this type will be the same across various factories but it will vary.  That is why provenance is important - so much goes into determining the flavour of the tea we enjoy in our cup.  From here we went on to visit one of the most famous tea areas for MaoJian for a late night tasting before visiting one of the most extraordinary tea places I have ever been. More on that later....

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