How tea farmers test their teas...

12 Sep 2012 | 0 comments

So I took this photo on a recent tour around Old Fu's tea farm in Ning De, where our Silver Needle tea comes from - can you guess how old this tea is?

One of the biggest challenges for any tea farmer is making his tea consistently good, year after year. There's too many factors to control for - weather, environmental changes, production methods - that it's constantly on their mind.

In a tour of tea master Lao Fu (Old Fu)'s factory in Ning De, I stumbled into the tasting room and was shocked at a whole wall full of tea boxes. There were around 300 separate packages, and as I scanned to the far corner, some seem like they might have pre-dated television!

It turns out the oldest sample there was a Jasmine Tea from 1981, the year I was born. Old Fu had been keeping samples since that year, and, he told me, he takes them out every year for testing.

WAIT!

A green Jasmine tea from 1981? Shouldn't it be a pile of mould by now? Well, apparently not. By storing the teas in a good environment, sealed in tins, they do not mould.

WAIT! AGAIN!

A green tea from 1981 - won't it taste like ash from a campfire by now? Actually, here you're right - the tea has lost all of its flavour, with literally no Jasmine fragrance left over from 30 odd years of storage.

However, the tea is still useful - even dried and flavourless, it shows Old Fu the shape of the leaves, their length, size and rolling pattern, which are important aspects in the quality of a high-end tea.

Mind = blown

It kind of amazed me. The whole tasting room was lined with hundreds of samples that were used to compare everything from colour, taste, texture, heaviness, amount of fur, as well as shape and size. There were samples from last year, last season, or 10-20 years ago, and in a separate room stood massive machines used to test for pollutants, chemicals and water content.

Much as we all adore the artisan side of tea, it's also easy to forget that many tea farmers approach this like a science, professionally and with exacting standards.

Our Silver Needle tea is from Old Fu's factory in Ning De, Fujian Province.

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