Updated: Oct 18, 2018
Unlike a standardized component designed for a machine, fresh leaves come in different shapes and contain various amount of water. Therefore, an experienced tea maker needs to adjust his processing times and techniques for different batches of fresh leaves. Today, let’s talk about how we individualize the processing of leaves in Wu-Yi oolong rock tea-making.
First, we need to understand the “standardization” in tea-making. In modern food industries, everything has a strict schedule and procedure. For example, a cookie is baked precisely for 25 minutes. But in tea-making, standardization refers to the result of each process. For example, the standard result of the shaking process is a leaf’s appearance of “red edge and green leaf”. The uncertainties and variables in fresh leaves demand an individualized processing to achieve the standard result.
Although there are no two leaves that are exactly the same, we can still categorize fresh leaves into the following groups: large and thick / small and thin, tender / tough. In general, for lager, thicker and tenderer leaves, the shaking is lighter to extend the water loss. Leaves are being shaken less and resting more. For smaller, thiner and tougher leaves, there are more shaking and less resting. Regardless handcrafted shaking or machine shaking, a tea master needs to monitor the process based on the situation of the fresh leaves.
Of course, a true tea master relies more than his instinct to determine whether fresh leaves are changing in the right direction. Observing, sniffing and touching are the most basic techniques. During the tea-making, there are signs showing tea makers that tea leaves are ready to be further processed. The most noticeable signs are changes in the fragrance and the appearance.
The general evolution of a tea leaf’s fragrance during the tea-making is: the leafy/grassy smell, the faint scent, the floral aroma, and finally the fruity fragrance. The changes in a leaf’s appearance can be categorized into: firm and strong, soft and lackluster, firmer again with red edge, and finally spoon-shaped with red edge and green leaf. These signs tell the tea maker the degree of tea-making completion.
In tea-making, a tea master is like an interpreter. He translates all these signs into individualized tea-making plans for each leaf. Does this batch of leaves contain too much water? Well, we need to blow them with air for a longer time. Has this batch of leaves had too much withering? Well, we need to address more on the fermentation to prevent the loss of fragrance.
Confucius said, we should always teach students in accordance with their aptitude. The concept applies to tea-making as well. We should always make tea in accordance with leaves’ aptitude. Good education relies on great educators like Confucius who have deep understanding of humanity. Great tea-making also relies on great tea masters who can bring individualized tea-making for each precious leaf.
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