Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hand-Processed Oolong Tea

The production of delicious oolong tea requires time-honored tradition and outstanding craftsmanship. The best oolong tea is picked by hand during the spring and winter months in southeast China and Taiwan. Oolong teas are partially oxidized teas and undergo the most difficult and time consuming processing method. First the leaves are withered in direct sunlight and then shaken gently in bamboo baskets to lightly bruise the edges of the leaves. Next the leaves are air-dried in the shade until the surface of the leaf turns slightly yellow. The process of shaking and drying the leaves is repeated several times. The oxidation period for oolong teas is less than that for black teas and depends on the type of oolong. After the desired oxidation level is reached, the leaves are panfired at high temperatures to prevent further oxidation.

In small mountain towns where tea is grown, we were fortunate to watch many small shops process their own tea leaves. To our untrained eyes, the tea leaves looked the same, but we discovered that there are rigid standards for quality in these highly-prized oolong leaves.

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