Blog 13: Tea Leaves Can “Catch Cold” During Tea-Making
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
In our last blog, we talked about “the shaking”, an important process in Wu-Yi oolong tea tea-making. At the end of the blog, we briefly discussed a couple more factors that can affect the shaking result. Today, we will talk about the room temperature during the shaking and how tea leaves can “catch cold” during this process.
The shaking can’t just be done anywhere. It must happen in a dedicated “green room” (or Qing Jian, meaning fresh leaves room, Chinese: 青间). The green room is heated and the temperature is regulated. However, the room temperature isn’t always the same. A good tea master needs to adjust the room temperature for the shaking based on many variables. For example, how much water the fresh leaves contain, the weather of the day of harvest, the tenderness of the leaves and so on. During the shaking, all doors and windows (if there is any) must be shut. All these efforts aim to create a desirable environment for the fresh leaves.
While being shaken, a leaf is in fact damaged and weakened because it’s losing water. The leaf needs to get water resupplied from the stem. In a temperature-regulated room, all leaf veins are open and unblocked. The water and nutrients can flow freely from the stem to the leaf. If the room temperature changes dramatically, the shaken leaves could “catch cold”.
Our tea master Mr. Wang and Mr. Xue have another way to describe those leaves that caught cold: leaves that hang themselves. This sounds abstract, but it actually is very illustrative. A tea leaf that caught cold often has point that blocks the supply from the stem to the leaf. When this happens, a leaf feels similar to a person who has the flu. The leaf becomes softer as if it suddenly loses all the energy. Because the lost water during the shaking cannot be resupplied, the leaf slowly suffocates to its demise. Therefore, a leaf “hangs” itself.
A “hung” leaf needs to be picked out and disposed. In our tea-making philosophy, this type of leaves is already dead and cannot be made into tea. A bunch of leaves that caught cold looks and feels like over-boiled vegetables, too soft and too mushy. This is why the shaking is one of the most important techniques in the making of Wu-Yi oolong rock tea. Even in today’s machine shaking, human experience still plays a more crucial part. Remember, tea plants do not make tea, people make tea.
Finally, here are two new videos about the shaking. The first one shows our tea master Mr. Tian-Mei Xue. Look how leaves rotate in the air during his shaking. The second videos shows our tea master Mr. Ming-Xing Xue (right) and his apprentice (left) who’s learning how to do the shaking. The way the apprentice does the shaking is wrong because the leaves are basically just moving up and down on the sifter. Two videos shows just how much difference in skills between tea makers.
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