From the tree to the pot

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS - By SUN LI HE NA

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.

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