Chinese tea follows ancient and time-honoured methods for processing tea leaves and making tea.
1. Picking - the tea is picked when new shoots push through - click to see more »
2. Drying - the tea is laid out under the strong sun to dry the surface water away
3. Wilting - for up to 18 hours, the tea is wilted at low heat to release the flavours
4. Baking - depending on the type of tea, the leaves are now baked until they change colour.
5. Rolling - either by hand or machine, the leaves are rolled into thin or round shapes
6. Selection - workers now manually sort the leaves, removing stems, roots or other waste.
Although there are hundreds of different varieties of Chinese tea, they all follow a roughly similar process. The guide below explains the main steps used to process a tea from picking to brewing.
Chinese tea is normally picked twice a year, in spring and autumn. The exact time depends on the skill of the tea farmer, who will look at the tea bushes and evaluate if they are ready. Normally, they'll look for a branch with two full grown leaves, and one newly sprouted leaf.
The tea is first dried in the sun - this only lasts about 20-30 minutes, and removes the surface water from the leaves. The leaves are spread out on the ground, and turned once or twice before they're ready for the next stage.
The tea leaves are now placed in a type of dryer, normally with heat provided via a wood burning stove. The leaves are gently heated for up to 18 hours, and turned regularly. This starts the process of oxidisation, releasing the flavours of the tea. At this stage, the fragrance of the tea leaves is overpowering and absolutely fantastic!
The tea leaves are now normally baked. Depending on the type of tea, the length of baking will vary. Dark teas like The Big Red (da hong pao) are baked until the leaves are 70% brown, whereas green teas like Iron Buddha (tie guan yin) are baked for much shorter periods.
After baking, the teas are normally rolled, either by hand or by machine. This does two things - it releases the natural flavours inside the tea, and also shapes the leaves.
At this point, the tea leaves are ready to be hand-selected. At this point, the tea grower will pull out the stems, roots, or broken leaves from the tea, so that the end product consists of just fine quality tea leaves.