From the tree to the pot
The intricate production procedure used to make Dahongpao tea consists of 18 steps and undoubtedly contributes to the distinctive, long- lasting aroma. The following labor-intensive processes are among the most important factors that can affect quality.
The leaves should be picked in late spring and those selected should not be too tender, otherwise the tea will taste bitter.
The chosen leaves are then spread out on flat beds or placed in bamboo baskets before being left in direct sunlight to remove any lingering moisture. This process, called “withering”, plays an important role in determining whether the tea will have a lasting aroma. The leaves are withered until the luster is lost and the fragrance is dominant.
The most important part of the process comes when the leaves are placed in special baskets and shaken vigorously. This affects the quality in terms of leaf shape and flavor.
Because the violence and duration of the shaking process need to be adjusted according to the time of harvest and changes in the color of the leaves, the procedure is usually only carried out by veteran blenders of great experience.
Each basket is shaken between four and eight times before it’s put down and the master starts on another batch. The entire process can take as long as six to nine hours.
As they’re being shaken, the leaves bump against each other, which bruises the edges, destroying the cell structure in the leaves and accelerating oxidization to reduce the naturally grassy smell.
Later, any residual moisture is removed by the baking process, which is divided into two parts. This process enhances the color and aroma of the tea.
During the first part of the procedure, the leaves are heated to more than 120 C for approximately 10 minutes, then they are exposed to the air for around 30 minutes. During the second firing, the heat is reduced to 90 C and the leaves are baked for roughly 20 minutes.
In the final stage of the process, the leaves are sorted to remove sub-standard leaves or twigs.