As promised in my last post when I wrote about Bi Luo Chun tea, this time I will write a bit about how that tea is actually made. The tea leaves are plucked in the early morning hours each spring starting from the beginning of March. The earlier in spring the tea is picked the higher its quality. The harvests grade lowers gradually throughout spring as the tea buds get bigger. Only the terminal bud with an adjacent leaf is being picked and usually less than 2cm in size.
One kilogram of very high grade Bi Luo Chun can consist of up to 15,000 tea shoots.
Once the sorting process for the day is finished the roasting process is being done the same evening. The roasting starts at a high temperature of about 200°C (390°F) to stop the fermentation process. This step is called kill-green or shāqīng (殺青). The heat deactivates the enzymes which would otherwise change the teas flavour. The longer the leaves are allowed to oxidize the darker they get until eventually it would become black tea. Our Bi Luo Chun of course is not allowed to ferment that long and gets in the wok right away. It only takes about 3-5 minutes.
In the next half hour step the leaves get their distinctive shape. Bi Luo Chun making requires some practice to master the technique and so there are even competitions for it, as you can see in the picture. The wok temperature is now only at about 70°C (160°F) and the moisture in the leaves is reduced to around 30%.
Over the next 15minutes at 50°C (120°F) the moisture reduces further to below 20%, the tea leaves spiral up and lump together and the little white hair starts to show.
In the last step, at only about human body temperature, the drying is completed and the colour of the tea has changed quite significantly. It looks rather gray and hairy by now, but only until you use it. Once in contact with hot water the leaves will unfold, brighten up and develop an amazing fragrance.