Oolong tea is traditionally processed after harvest through a meticulous series of steps. First, the tea leaves are withered in the sun or indoors, allowing them to partially dry and wilt. Then, they are gently tossed or shaken to bruise the edges, initiating oxidation. After oxidation, the leaves are fired in hot pans or ovens to halt oxidation and lock in flavors. Rolling or shaping the leaves follows, giving oolong its distinct appearance. Finally, the leaves are dried to reduce moisture content, resulting in the flavorful and aromatic oolong tea enjoyed worldwide.
Step 1) Drying
The withering process in tea production is a crucial step that follows the harvest. It involves gently wilting the freshly plucked tea leaves to reduce their moisture content. Typically, the leaves are spread out on trays or bamboo mats and exposed to air, allowing them to lose moisture naturally. This withering process softens the leaves, making them more pliable for subsequent steps like rolling and shaping. But while it seems simple, Master Liu knows all too well how difficult it really is.
Check out the drying process below:
Step 2) Starting the oxidation process
After withering, tea leaves are intentionally bruised or damaged to expose their enzymes to oxygen. This is typically done by gently tossing, rolling, or shaking the leaves. As the enzymes react with oxygen, the leaves start to undergo oxidation. This chemical reaction transforms the green chlorophyll in the leaves into darker compounds, altering both the color and flavor of the tea. The extent of oxidation is carefully controlled and monitored, with shorter oxidation times yielding lighter teas, like green tea, and longer oxidation resulting in darker, more robust flavors found in black and oolong teas.
Step 3) Fixing the tea
Fixing in tea processing is a crucial step that follows oxidation. It involves the application of heat to halt the oxidation process and set the desired flavor and aroma characteristics of the tea leaves. Fixing is typically achieved through methods like steaming, pan-firing, or baking, depending on the type of tea being produced. For example, green tea is often steamed or pan-fired to preserve its green color and delicate, grassy flavors. In contrast, black tea is fully oxidized and requires baking or roasting to develop its bold, dark characteristics. Fixing not only stops oxidation but also helps remove excess moisture from the leaves, ensuring they are stable for further processing and storage.