Updated: Oct 19, 2018
In our last tea blog, we explored the evolution of a tea leaf’s fragrance during Wu-Yi oolong tea-making. If you haven’t read our “Part I”, please click here. The fragrance change is crucial in determining the degree of completion in tea-making. Today, let’s continue our journey.
One of the purposes of the first shaking is to break the edge of the leaf, so it can start to ferment. This procedure causes water loss because of the broken edge. Essentially, the first shaking damages fresh leaves. This is why after first a couple shakes, all leaves would be put on the rack to rest. During the resting, the water and the nutrients in the stem would be transferred into the leaf. Thus, all leaves would start to “revive”. Tea makers need to carefully observe and control the reviving. Once again, the changes in leaf fragrance plays a big part.
The fragrance just after the first shaking is sweet and cool. After resting for some time, this aroma would slowly fade away and become the raw-herbal smell again (please see Part I for definition of this smell). The raw-herbal smell would intensify at first, but it’d eventually thin out. Once the leaves become soft and dim again, tea makers can start the second shaking. Tea makers merger 4 sifters’ load of leaves into 3 sifters. The second shaking would have stronger and more shakes than the first. The intensified second shaking increases the amount of leaf-crashing and accelerates the fermentation.
Then, after another resting, we come to the third shaking. The third shaking would merger the previous 3 sifters’ load of leaves into 2 sifters. Merging leaves helps slow down the water loss and prevents leaves dying from dehydration. After the third shaking, tea makers would gather all leaves into a crater-shaped in the center. The crater shape allows leaves to breath steadily. This technique is called “Wei-Shui” (Chinese: 围水, meaning: enclose the water). Wei-Shui makes sure that all leaves have the same rate of water loss and water resupply.
From now on, the more shaking leaves have, the less water in the stem. Ultimately, all stems are virtually weightless while all leaves are still resilient, smooth and full of energy. The fragrance now becomes a full fruity smell.
Processing fresh leaves into half-processed raw tea (or Mao-Cha, Chinese: 毛茶) usually takes more than 10 hours. The shaking process has at least hundreds of shakes. Many quality problems in tea-making are the direct result of bad shaking. The ability and the experience to understand the evolution of a leaf’s fragrance is the key to a successful shaking. In another blog, we witnessed the difference between a good shaking and a bad shaking. That is just the pure labor skill. But the skill to decide when to do the shaking is another critical part of the job. I hope by reading this blog, you can also understand how tea makers determine when to commence the next process.
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