All About Chinese Tea, Part 2
The Famous and Special Teas of China
Wednesday, 2nd March, 2011 - David Farmer
I was fortunate to spend time in China in the late 1970's and early 1980's which came about from one of the poorly thought out business ideas of my brother and I to import tea from China. What follows comes from notes I took during an extended stay in June, 1980. I believe this information will prove quite useful to those who love tea and its many types. (Part 1 can be found here)
i) Pan fried Varieties
Dragon Well (lung Chin or Longjing)-Zhejiang Province; small one to two centimetres long yellow-green leaf, leaf shaped. Perhaps the most famous of all Chinese teas.
Duyun-Guizhou province; yellow green furry leaf tips. Small quantities made. The two sub-varieties are Donyun and Mayian.
Foggy-Jiangxi Province; also called Lushan; famous, grey-green, long twisted wiry shape, 2 to 3 centimetres. Small quantities. The brand on tins is Lu Shan Yun Wu.
Shayugan-Henan Province; dark, grey-green with yellow tips, otherwise same wiry twisted shape as Foggy but the leaf is smaller. Tiny quantities exported.
Lushan-Jiangxi Province; believed to be the same as Foggy.
The classification of the following green teas needs further classification as to whether they are pan fried, fired or a blend and their origin is also uncertain.
Gunpowder; distinctive appearance of tight rolled leaf ball like a gun shot; thought to be pan fried.
Needle type; a distinctive short, straight sharp green leaf, like a small pin; probably pan fried. Tasted at the Tea research Institute.
Special Chume (or Chummee)-Zhejiang province; made in commercial quantities. This is probably fired and is one of the best fired green teas. Blended and shaped like eyebrows.
Pi Lo Chun; there are several grades of this tea which is a high quality fired tea.
Keemun; around the black tea area of Keemun -Anhui Province-some very fine green teas are grown which are seldom exported. They are named after the four towns; Yoing village, Koung Kou, Aencharg, and Shouncheng.
ii) The Congue or Leaf Teas
Keemun-Anhui Province; centred south of Anqing. The most famous of the Chinese black teas.
Sichuan-Sichuan Province; centred south of Yibin. Now rivalling Keemun for quality.
Nienchow-Jiangxi province; centred north of Nanchang.
Pakalum-Northern Fukien Province; a very famous tea.
Pakalum-Northern Fukien Province. [note 2010-I mention three famous Northern Fukien Province though the first two have the same name?]
Pangyang- Northern Fukien Province
Yunnan-Yunnan province; two types are made from Chinese and Yunnan bushes on western edge of Province.
iii) The Broken Teas
Congue teas are expensive to make and there is a slowing demand [2010 note-probably does not apply now]. Hence some extremely fine broken teas are made in the area of the congue teas. Those tried from Yunnan Province were superb.
Yunnan Broken (FBOP grade)-Yunnan Province; superb tea with a cigar box aroma, very strong.
Yingteh-Guandong Province; a rich strong tea, but neutral, i.e. very hard to identify that it is Chinese.
Hainan-Hainan Island, Guandong Province; deep almost black in colour and very strong.
There are numerous other special China Black teas which are packaged by the various export tea branches. These are broken grades, the blend of which varies from time to time.
iv) Oolong Tea
Wu Ih Yen-Fukien Province; grown on Wuyi Mountain, southern Fukien
Ti Kuan Yin-Fukien Province; there is a special brand called Dunhuang.
Other Specialty Teas
White Tea-Fukien Province; a very expensive tea made like green tea but only the tips are picked.
Pur Erh Tea-Yunnan Province.
Yellow Tea-Hubei Province.
Jasmine Tea; numerous grades.
Tea Tasting and Tea Drinking
For tea tasting three grams of tea are brewed for five minutes before examination begins.
1. Dry Leaf Examination
The importance of the leaf shape from green tea has been mentioned. The shape of the leaf gives an indication of the time taken in manufacture and thus its likely quality. This is also true for congue teas where the even shape of rolled leaf particles and shiny leaf appearance are signs of good quality. The determination of quality of broken teas requires tasting although the size of the leaf is larger for the grades BP and BOP than for BOFP and F. Old tea looks darker and duller. [2010 comment-the tea leaf oxidizes and old tea develops a dull grey powdery sheen or appearance]
2. Smell of Wet Leaves
Tasting commences with the smelling of the wet leaves which are separated from the tea liquor. There is a wide range of wet leaf smells. For both green and black tea a delicate scented and complex aroma is associated with the better quality teas. Indications of the age of the tea are revealed here with older leaf having less volatile aromatics left.
It is a pity that in the normal course of tea drinking it is not possible to appreciate the intense aroma given off by wet leaves. The subtle but distinct difference that the good green tea and black teas have is pronounced and as pleasurable as found in wine. (The major mistake I made in tea tasting was to give too much emphasis to the aroma rather than the taste. For instance placing a young tea because of the fresh aromatics in front of a better quality older tea which was more subdued in smell).
3. Examination of the Liquor
Good quality green teas are characterised by a pale creamy gold with green hints. Poorer quality is a pale orange brown. [2010 comment-the green teas served in Chinese restaurants when you sit down are of very poor quality as shown by the brown colours and this also applies to tea bag products].
With black tea a bright orange colour (coppery) is looked for. Congue teas appear lighter than BOP teas.[2010 comment-the average packet tea and tea bag tea is very low quality and to understand great tea you will have to spend a fair bit of money].
4. Tea Taste
It seems strange with a history as long as the Chinese tea industry that there are so few descriptive tea tasting terms. Unlike the rich vocabulary of wine tasting there are almost no distinctive words or phrases that are used to describe the taste of tea. The only terms regularly used are ‘brisk’ which is akin to the wine term acid, and is used to describe the freshness and life of a tea, and ‘strength’ which describes the tannic finish and the depth of finish. The Tea Research Institute has isolated chemicals that they believe correlate with these two desirable characters and which can be measured and quantified to give a guide to quality.
In tasting, a good tea will be brisk, have strength and a long finish. It will show no flat mustiness which develops with age or undesirable bitter qualities. Perhaps the major differences between the congue and broken teas are that the longer rolling and fermentation of the congue gives them a mellow gentle taste which contrasts with the greener, fresher taste of the broken teas.
5. Infused Leaf Examination
Examining the wet leaf gives important clues to the quality of the tea. With good tea, tips and leaf buds, leaf pieces showing leaf margin and leaf veins and a uniform size are apparent. With poorer tea, leaf pieces are irregular with ragged edges and thick leaves. A flakiness is apparent in poor leaf. The colour of the leaf should be uniform to indicate even firing. New leaf has a bright light to deep brown colour, old tea being black and dull.
A feature of tea sold in Australia is the amount of floating particles. This is a sign of poor quality tea made from leaf that is too old or tea that has been stored for too long. Good tea, even after three years storage will not float on the surface. Floating tea particles can also mean that the tea was made from water that was not hot enough.
6. Water Quality
It is worth remembering here that the quality of the local water will have a considerable bearing on the tea taste. Shanghai water is not very good and in Australia, Adelaide and Perth waters are probably the worst.
Chinese Tea Production and Marketing
[ 2010-A long section follows dealing with production but the statistics are out of date, and no doubt the rolls of each of the provincial tea branches has altered so this has been left out. What follows was placed in various appendixes and is very useful information]
The Tea Bush and Its Growth
Of the two types of tea bush grown in China, Yunnan and the Chinese varieties, Yunnan comprises about 20%. Planting of this variety is spreading as it has desirable taste characteristics, and the yield is higher than the Chinese variety. It is restricted, however, to tropical and semi-tropical areas.
The two varieties are pruned in different ways, the Yunnan bushes being pruned to produce a flat topped surface while the Chinese bush is pruned in a half sphere shape.
Highest production from a tea bush is between 7 to 15 years old. At 20 to 25 years the tea bushes are severely pruned back. Picking can commence from the bushes about 3 years later. When a bush is 50 years old it is generally replaced.
Production varies but a good tea garden should produce 200,000 tips per hectare for a production of 6000 kilos of dry tea per hectare. A good sized tea garden would produce 500 tonnes of dry tea per year with large gardens producing 1000 tonnes per year.
The Manufacture of Green Tea
There are two types of green tea:
1) Those made by frying the fresh leaf in small pans.
11) Those made by firing the leaf in large ovens.
It should be noted that the Japanese make green tea by a steaming method
1. The Frying Method
This is the traditional method which is reserved for the very best green teas, generally those picked in the first flush of spring in April-May. The fresh tender leaf is instantly heated to stop all cell enzyme processes.
A) The Fukien Method
The fresh green leaf, straight from picking, is fried in large pans at 90°C. It is then rolled for ten minutes in the same rolling machine as used for black tea. The balls of leaves are separated and cooled and the leaf is rolled again for ten minutes. Separation and cooling follows with a further rolling for ten minutes. The tea is then fired at 90°C, cooled and fired again at 80°C. The second firing being needed to completely dry the thicker stems.
This method as described by the Fukien branch is a speeded up version of the traditional method used to make, for instance, Dragon Well tea (Lung Ching tea) of Zhejiang Province. Fukien Province no doubt makes teas in this manner as well. The method as described resembles the method used in making lesser quality Dragon Well, as is made in Summer and Autumn.
B) The Traditional Dragon Well Method
The following method was described by a worker of the West Lake peoples commune, near Hangzhou City.
Tea is picked for seven months, from April to October, and in that time the tea bushes are picked about thirty times. There are sixteen grades of Dragon Well green tea, but grade 1 is only made in April.
This tea is made as follows. Some 120 grammes of freshly picked tender tea is placed in an electrically heated (used to be wood fired) cast iron dish which is about 0.8 metres in diameter and about 0.4 metres deep. This dish is heated to 80°C and the leaf is rolled back and forth by hand for fifteen minutes. The leaf is removed and cooled then placed again in the dish this time at 30° [2010-this seems to low] and again hand rolled for thirty minutes. The leaf is not so much rolled as pressed firmly by the hand against the pan surface and massaged back and forth against the pan surface so that the final leaf shape resembles a flat pointes leaf about 2cm long and 0.5cm wide. These flat leaf shapes are in fact the pressing together of the two leaves and one bud of the very young plant tip as it was picked. It is an important characteristic of good green tea that the original leaf shape opens up in the tea cup. This green tea in the dry state has an appealing yellow green colour. Dragon Well grade 1 is considered the best Chinese green tea. Two and a half kilos of fresh leaf make half a kilo of green tea. One person hand rolling at the pan will make about two to three kilos per day. This tea must obviously be expensive.
The particular shape of this tea is said to be 1000 years old. The shape of the dry leaf of these traditional green teas is considered very important, each area having developed its own style of rolling which imparts a characteristic shape.
The more common shape as shown by Foggy Tea (Jiangxi Province) is created in the frying pans by turning the tea over and over in the pan. This leads to long thin curled shapes being formed.
Dragon Leaf of lower quality is made the following way.
Green leaf is pan fried at 150°C. This eliminates about 20% of the moisture. The leaf is then machine rolled for twenty minutes and then fired at 80°C. The leaf is cooled then rolled again for forty minutes before being finally fired at 80°C. This method produces the conventional curly shape of good green tea. This tea is hand sieved into various grades.
2. Fired Green Tea-The Mass Production Method
With green tea it is important to preserve the green colour of the leaf. To stop leaf enzymes acting the green leaf is fired for five to six minutes at 200°-240°C. The leaf at this stage retains about 40% moisture. The tea is cooled and rolled three times for ten minute periods with cooling intervals. Rolling is kept gentle and short so as not to squeeze out all the leaf chlorophyll (green colouring of leaves). The tea is then fired at 90°C, cooled and fired again at 70°-80°C. This double firing ensures that the water content in the thicker parts of leaf veins and the stalks is lowered to the desirable level-about 3% by weight.
The Manufacture of Black Tea
The two styles of black tea, congue and broken teas, are made in different ways. Congue comes from a Chinese word meaning traditional, these teas being made slowly and carefully, while the broken teas are withered, cut and rolled quickly. Each tea factory makes its tea in slightly different ways with the final products being also slightly different.
1. Congue Teas
A) The Making of Keeman Congue
The tea leaf is withered in withering lofts (not by machine) with cool air for 18-20 hours. The exact time will depend on the weather conditions and is determined by the experience of the personnel. The leaf is rolled three times. The rolling machines used have flat tables without the spiral vanes used for other teas (including some other congues) but there are three small ridges in the centre of the table to keep the tea from being completely squashed.
The tables have a single action, that is, only the top table revolves. This treats the leaf gently, with little pressure, the object being for the leaves to ‘roll them selves’. The first stage of rolling takes 30-55 minutes. If the leaf used is very tender rolling only takes 30 minutes, if slightly coarser 55 minutes. The rolled bunches of leaves are removed and placed in a ‘roll breaker’ which breaks up the leaf ball by spreading it. This also cools the leaf. The leaf is also sifted at this stage and the very tender small leaf which has sifted through is used for the second rolling. Older coarser leaf is discarded or used to make a lower grade Keemun. The second rollers use a double action i.e. the top and bottom table roll eccentrically.
For the first ten minutes of rolling no pressure is applied then five minutes with light pressure (applied by the tables which can be screwed down on the leaf), then five minutes without pressure, then five minutes with high pressure, then five minutes with no pressure.
Again the tea is removed and put in a roller breaker. The tae is sifted and the small fanning and dust sizes are removed. The tea is rolled a third time for thirty minutes as per the second stage. The tea is removed, put in the roller breakers, sifted and the various sizes sent to the fermentation room. Humidity in the fermentation room is maintained at 95% and the temperature is kept below 28°C. Fermentation takes about 90 minutes for good quality and 180 minutes for inferior quality.
The leaf is fired twice. The first firing, (this means placed in a large oven) is at 95°C The leaf is moved around in the firing chamber by conveyors for 15-18 minutes. It is cooled then fired a second time at 80°C for 25 minutes. After cooling the leaf is sifted by hand for high quality tea and by machine for lower quality. The very finest Keemun is sifted with fans to blow away dirt, small particles and the uncurled flat leaf. For the ultra high quality tea the tea is hand packed. Thus the finest Keemun is composed of tea of curled uniform size with no stalks, no fanning or dust. Even the lower quality Keemuns are placed in machines to remove stalks.
Other congue teas are made in a similar way to the Keemun but without the same attention. One big difference is that the rollers are all double action.
[2011 comment-This discussion is about the greatest of all black teas and even back in the 1980s a kilo of the very best Keemun cost more than A$100. The price today I guess would be 5 times that.]
B) Fukien Province Congues
Withering which leads to a 40% water loss is now done artificially and tahes five to six hours. This is followed by three rolling periods. The first roll takes 10-15 minutes and uses light pressure, the second roll takes 15-20 minutes and medium pressure is applied and the third roll takes 10 minutes and heavy pressure is applied. Total rolling time is variable, however, and may take up to 90 minutes. In hot weather the rolling time is shortened. The leaf is fermented in 95% humidity and the temperature is kept between 22-28°C for a time of 2-3 hours. The leaf is fired twice at 90-100°C and the second time at 70-80°C.
C) Yunnan Province Congues
Produced in spring from high plateau areas. The leaf undergoes a long withering with a water loss of 42%. The withering time is based on experience; if it is not “just right” the leaf breaks up in the rollers. The leaf is rolled three times, for a total of 90 minutes. The leaf is fermented until it has gone a greenish copper colour. It is then fired twice. After sifting the broken leaf pieces are removed and graded as brokens.
The long withering process for congues is essential for preserving the leaf in the rolling stage, and the long time taken for rolling is also to preserve as much full leaf as possible. Congue teas take about three times as long to make as broken teas. The finest quality congues make up about five per cent of the total output.
2. Broken Teas
There has been a great change in the style of tea demanded by the consumer (strength and rapid colouring) and with the growth of the tea bag market considerable changes have been required in the manufacture of tea. The production of broken teas is in response to this demand.
There are four ways broken teas are made:
A) Orthodox Method
This is a speeded up version of the manner in which the congue teas are made. Since it is not essential that long twisted leaf fragments should be preserved, withering time is shortened and rolling is done fewer times with greater pressure being applied.
B) Rotovane Method
Most black tea in China is made with this method. This is a speeded up version of the orthodox method but the leaf is deliberately machine cut after rolling.
C) CTC Method
In this method the withered leaf is cut, crushed and rolled all at once.
D) LTP Method
This makes extremely fine particles for use in tea bags.
The Chinese seem to favour the Rotorvane method. The tea is withered for less time than for congue teas, six to eight hours, although this is shortened to several hours if done by machine. A loss of about 20% water occurs with withering. The leaf is rolled once or twice with double action plates which have six to ten curving ridges radiating from the centre. These plates move eccentrically and with the leaf being squashed and rolled against the ridges the break-up of the leaf is quicker than with congue teas. This rolled leaf is fed into cutting machines. It may be rolled again or sent straight to the fermentation rooms. The rolling period is about 30 minutes. Firing is done once or twice.
The Manufacture of Oolong Teas
1) Making the Tea
Oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea with a taste mid-way between green and black teas. Its manufacture is largely confined to the Province of Fukien.
Unlike other teas, for the making of Oolong tea three leaves and one bud are picked. (Although Mr Cheng Kuo- Chun, tea expert of the Shanghai Tea Corporation, told me that two leaves and one bud are picked, but they are picked at an older state than that for other teas, i.e. the leaves are not as tender as for the best black or green tea). The leaves are then dried or withered very quickly, preferably by sunlight, but if it is not a sunny day then by artificial means. This process of semi-withering takes about ten minutes.
The leaf is then placed in long revolving drums (like a large clothes dryer but without any heat). The leaves are tumbled and rolled for about ten minutes. The balls of leaves are separated and tumbled again for ten minutes and again separated and tumbled for ten minutes. At this stage no pressure is being applied to the leaves as in the manufacture of black tea. What the tumbling process does is bruise the leaf edges which starts a fermentation along the leaf edges, the leaf further in towards the central vein being unaffected. The amount of tumbling and the number of stages is left to the experience of the operator.
This bruising of the leaf edges causes them to ferment and oxidise to a copper colour. This copper colour zone penetrates a millimetre or so towards the central vein. This zone can be considered a weak black tea.
This leaf is then pan fried at 200°C for about 10 minutes (to arrest the start of this fermentation). These frying pans are about one metre in diameter.
The leaf is then rolled for twenty minutes in the same type of machine as used for black tea. The leaf is then fired again for ten minutes at 70-80°C (fired not fried this time). Again the leaf is rolled, for the very best quality by hand, for most Oolongs in a rolling machine, but this time in a machine different from that used for black tea.
The tea is then fired at 70-80°C for 15-20 minutes. This double firing at the end of tea production is quite common. The first firing apparently does not lower the water level in the thicker parts of the leaf and the leaf stem to the required level.
The manufacture of Oolong tea is highly skilled. It is critical with the various firings to control the water loss as too much lost too early causes the leaf to dry out and break up.
In appearance the Oolong teas look completely ungraded with large and small pieces of leaf, large and small pieces of stem. These pieces may be as long as 2.5cm. The appearance of the dry tea is not considered important. Dust and fanning are however removed from Oolong tea. There is very little top grade Oolong.
2) Testing the Tea
The following description of Oolong tea tasting comes from Mr Cheng Kuo-Chun.
Larger brewing cups are used than for other teas, 250ml size, due to the wet leaves taking up such a volume of the cup. The tea is draw for five minutes as with other teas and poured into a cup. Two further cups are made from the one sample, each at five minute intervals. In a very good Oolong the flavour will linger right to the last of the three cups, a poorer Oolong only to the second. In the sniffing of the wet or infused leaf only the rim of the brewing cup is sniffed, not the actual leaves as with other teas.
3) Drinking Oolong Tea and Its Taste
Mr Cheng considers Oolong to be the best flavoured of all Chinese teas. He says they have autumn flavours, a dry leaf taste, which is due to the high firing temperature. This tea is much liked by the Japanese who drink it using a small teapot and cups about the size of large thimbles. These tea sets look like dolls sets. As the dry tea absorbs moisture in the pot the leaf returns to its original size and should fill the pot. The tea is said to be very strong and this is the reason for drinking from small cups. The people of Fukien province have now picked up this Japanese habit.
Of the two Oolongs tried one was a bright red brown, not as deeply coloured as Keemun black tea, and had a very good midway taste between green and black tea. The other was much lighter in colour, with a brittle dry taste. Examination of the wet leaves of this tea showed many were as picked, indicating the delicate way the leaf was tumbled and rolled. Whether there is a market for these Oolongs In Australia needs further examination. The best Oolong is called Wu Ih Yen (or Wuyi Yen). Ti Kuan Yin is also famous, as are Wuyi Shui Hsein, Ansi Se Chung, Foshou and Ta Hung Ku.
The Production of Lapsang Souchong and Tarry Souchong
The following method was described by Mr Cheng Kuo-Chun of the Shanghai Tea Branch. The description is very traditional and it is possible that faster methods are used for the production of lower grade lapsangs.
The lapsangs are made in the same manner as black congue teas, except for the first stage, that of withering. The fresh picked tea leaf is placed in bamboo containers which are suspended over charcoal fires. It is important that the charcoal burns cleanly and gives off no smoke. To the charcoal are added even sized chips of pine wood of a special variety. The smoke given off by the pine wood spirals up through the bamboo container holding the tea leaf and infuses the leaf. The exact control of the temperature is very important as it is very easy to burn the tea. The tea is turned in the bamboo container many times to ensure even smoking. The temperature above the fire is held at 85°C and this produces a first stage of drying of thirty to forty per cent water loss. At this stage the leaf is very hot and it is cooled.
It is dried a second time but only over charcoal, this time at a temperature of 70°C. This process of making lapsangs is thought to have developed about 200 years ago.
Tarry Souchongs are made by smoking ready-made congue teas and never develop quite the same intensity of aroma and flavour.
The Manufacture of Jasmine Tea
Jasmine tea is made from fired green tea which is scented with freshly picked jasmine flower.
Unopened buds of jasmine flower are picked in late afternoon. After sorting to discard old jasmine flowers, buds which are too young, and pieces of twig and leaf, the flower is spread out on the factory floor (old method) to a depth of about 0.3 metres. The jasmine flowers undergo some chemical reaction which generates considerable heat (what this reaction is I do not know). This is not desirable and the flowers are constantly turned with forks to cool them. This method being labour intensive is being replaced with wide slow moving conveyor belts on which the flower is placed to a depth of about 0.2 metres. With this method the flower drops from one belt to the next for cooling.
By about 8.00PM to 9.00PM the flower buds have opened and the finest fragrance is being produced. At this stage the fresh green tea is blended with the jasmine buds. Two factors control the quality of the jasmine tea; the quality of the green tea used and the amount of jasmine flower used to scent the tea. We describe here the making of the finest quality jasmine tea for which a ratio of 1:1 is used; i.e. one kilo of green tea scented with one kilo of jasmine flower. [2010 comment-the price today of a product made this way would by very high]
The first evening the green tea is mixed with jasmine flower in the ratio of 100 kilos of tea to 36 kilos of flower. They are left in contact for 8-10 hours by which time the jasmine perfume has faded. The flower and tea are separated. As the flower petals contain considerable moisture this is absorbed by the green tea, thus the green tea is lightly fired for drying and then cooled. After three or four days the process is repeated with a ratio of 100 kilos of tea to 32 kilos of flower. And again after three to four days with a ration of 100 kilos to 32 kilos.
Lower quality teas are a combination of lower quality green tea and the amount of exposure to jasmine scent. They will be scented only once.
There is no need for the product as marketed to contain jasmine flower but this is included as the consumer expects it. As even dried jasmine flower contains moisture it is not considered a good practise as this moisture is absorbed by the green tea.
Jasmine tea keeps well if stored at a low temperature. The perfume should last for two years; however the colour of the tea liquor will deepen. The best jasmine flower is produced in July and August.
Weather is important in the scenting process, warm still nights being required.
A variety of jasmine tea is made for the Chinese market which includes Yulan flower (magnolia) which is sprinkled in with the jasmine. There is also a jasmine scented black tea.
The two main provinces for jasmine tea are Fukien and Jiangsu.
[2010 comment. One of my lasting impressions of China was being taken to see the old method of making jasmine tea. In the early evening we walked through an ancient part of a village to a classical Chinese building which was a large hall. From hundreds of metres away I caught the scent of jasmine and it got stronger as we approached the hall (it did not look like a factory and probably had other uses). Dozens of workers were sitting in front of their houses and along the edge of a small stream which ran by the ‘factory-hall’. They had gathered to inhale the extra-ordinary aroma which hung heavily in the still, warm evening air. The floor of the hall, about the size of a basket ball court, was half a metre deep in jasmine blooms and workers with large wooden pitchforks were turning the flowers over while others mixed in the green tea. I was mesmerised and watched this for almost an hour. Afterwards I sat by the stream and inhaled the aroma. All I needed was a glass of wine but to this day have never worked out exactly what wine would go with that amazing scent.]
Storage of Tea
All tea slowly deteriorates after processing, no matter how good the storage conditions are. There is a noticeable difference in the flavours between old and new crop teas. In the dry state the ageing can be identified by a darkening of the leaf and with the good congue teas by a loss of sheen. In the taste mustiness develops. The young infused leaf is orange brown and in older leaf dark brown to black. Fermentation continues at a very slow rate even in the dry fired leaf. Tea should be stored at a low temperature, with humidity of 60-70° and with a moisture content of 5-6%. The newly fired tea has a moisture level of 3-4% but absorbs 1-2% during storage and packaging. After two to three months this level can rise to 7-8%. At about 8% the taste is affected and as the tea ages a pronounced mustiness is apparent in the taste. Humidity levels above 95% are very bad for tea storage.
[2010 comment. In Australia the average grade of tea consumed is very low. This suits the customer who wants a fast brewing, dark colour. The average ages of these teas varies but have tended to get younger over the last decade so product along the supply chain is moving quicker. At other times I have had packets of Twinning’s that are very old. If buying expensive loose tea the secret is the distinctive, bright surface sheen which denotes a recent picking. Older tea has a pronounced dull, grey look; a fine powdery dull grey surface covering.]
Chinese Tea Drinking Habits
The type of tea enjoyed varies greatly from one part of the country to another. The southern Chinese enjoy black tea to which may be added milk and sugar. The northern and north eastern border areas also favour black tea. The centre of Jasmine and green tea drinking is Shanghai.
It is worth recording two Chinese tea drinking habits. The first is the making of tea in cups with lids which act like a miniature tea pot with the cup being repeatedly filled. The other is that they believe the second infusion of the tea leaf gives a better drink than the first. (i.e. filling the tea pot with boiling water a second time, but using the same leaves).
A Tea Story as Related by Mr Cheng Kuo Chun
"In the springtime we drink Oolong tea because this tea is picked during autumn and retains autumn flavour. In the summertime we drink pan fried green tea because this tea is picked during the spring and retains the spring freshness. In the autumn we drink Jasmine tea as the best Jasmine flowers are grown in mid-summer and then the best tea is made. During winter we enjoy black tea as the deep orange-red colour of the tea warms us and reminds us of summer".
Tastes are difficult to describe but autumn flavour describes oolong tea well as it does have a peculiar dry-leaf slightly burnt taste that could be associated with autumn leaves.
[Comment 2010: I also associate the oxidising tastes of old Hunter Semillon with autumn flavours.]