Loose Leaf Oolong Tea: The Process Of Fermentation

Oolong or Wu Long means "Black Dragon". Oolongs are half-fermented (or semi-oxidized) teas that are in the specialty tea family. Half-fermented because the processing of Oolong tea requires only a partial fermentation (oxidation) of the leaves. Oolongs occupy an intermediate position between non-fermented green teas and fully fermented black teas and are the most diverse and interesting loose leaf teas. Oolongs can have varying degrees of oxidation that ranges somewhere between 10-35% in classic Chinese Oolongs to 60-70% in classic Taiwanese (Formosa) Oolongs. Oolong specialty tea is often made from mature leaves, collected from older tea trees.

Processing Oolong is considered the art of tea, where the character of tea is created. Tea masters participate in Oolong tea processing competitions to demonstrate their professional skills at this fine art.

Let’s take a look at Oolong manufacturing process.

There are no standard recipes on how to manufacture oolong tea; it is up to the discretion of each tea garden or tea master to decide on processing and the level of oxidation.
Immediately after gathering, the tea leaves are spread in a thin layer on special bamboo mats under direct sunlight for withering that will let most of water evaporate. The withering process time varies depending on the ambient temperature.
The next step of processing is very peculiar, withered leaves are placed in a large bamboo basket and put in a shady area. Approximately every hour, the tea leaves are shacked and gently tumbled in order to bruise the edges of the leaves to start an oxidation, at the same time avoiding breaking or crushing them. This procedure has to be done several times, until following effect will be reached: bruised up edges of the leaves due to the fermentation become brown blush (like 'rusty'), while veins and parts of the leaves should remain green.

Once the desired level of fermentation is reached, the oxidation process should be stopped immediately. This is achieved through the heat drying phase of raw materials in scorching air called "panning". The pan roasting of the leaves requires extensive experience in Oolong tea processing.

Most Oolongs are dried in two stages: first is partially, primary drying and rolling of tea leaves, then a final finish drying. Some highly fermented Oolongs undergo an additional stage of wetting and softening.

The partially drying process is carried out manually. This stage is necessary to stop the fermentation. Partially drying can be done in 2-4 steps, when the raw material is taken out of the oven, quickly cooled, then rolled. Then again dried in the oven, rapidly cooled, then rolled again, and so on. Afterwards, the leaves go through a final drying phase, ending oxidation and often followed by baking (roasting). Several kinds of Oolong are not rolled just dried after panning. With such a "multistage" technology, taste and degree of fermentation of Oolongs differentiate. Although, manufacturing Oolong is very intensive and meticulous process, unique aroma and flavor profile of this specialty tea makes this tea worth the trouble.

Good quality Oolongs are only loose leaf teas, not tea bags!

The most widely known and actively exported Oolongs are Chinese (Fujian and Yunnan) and Taiwanese (Formosa). Among the most well-known are Formosa Oolongs. Grown and manufactured in Taiwan, named after the province in which grown, these teas are considered the best in quality and affordability among Oolong the loose leaf tea family. Taiwanese Oolongs are often called "Champagne of Teas". Typically Taiwanese Oolongs are specifically labeled that indicates the quality of tea:

1. Fanciest or Extra Fancy
2. Fancy
3. Extra Choice or Extra Fine
4. Fine
5. Fully Superior
6. Superior
7. Good
8. Standard

Chinese Oolongs are famous for the fact that are used in a Chinese traditional procedure named Gongfu Cha and withstand up to 7 steepings.

Brewing Oolong is a very delicate process because it strongly depends on the type of oolong, more precisely, the degree of its fermentation. A lightly fermented Oolong is closest to the brewing of green tea with 190-195 degrees water and the brewing time 1-3 minutes. More fermented Oolong (such as Formosa) is brewing a little longer 4-5 min in hotter water 203-212. After brewing a quality Oolong has pronounced specific characteristics that cannot be mixed with any other kinds of tea.

 The best quality Oolongs expresses a strong and rich floral aroma and a remarkable peachy flavor with a honey-sweet aftertaste. Oolongs that closer in oxidation to black teas, have a nutty, toasted flavor. Color of brew is very diverse: from light yellow with green notes (like green tea) to a dark red. Oolong specialty teas contribute 2% of tea consumption of all the teas all over the world.

Enjoy a great cup of Oolong, happy drinking!

Darjeeling: The Champagne of all teas


Darjeeling is the Chinese variations of the Camelia sinensis tea grown on Indian plantations in the province of Darjeeling and considered one of the most exquisite and expensive teas in the world. By the methods of cultivation and production, Darjeeling is closer to the Chinese teas rather than to the Indian teas. This is a small leaf tea, with slightly astringent taste and rich delicate floral aroma. Although Darjeeling is marketed commercially as "black tea", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more Oolongs than black teas.
This tea has a delicate taste due to the unique natural conditions of the region where it grows: cold and humid climate, high altitude location of plantations and the characteristics of the soil. Depending on the location and time of collecting, the taste, aroma and characteristics of Darjeeling are highly different. The most significant impact on tea quality has seasonal factors. Not everyone will be able to distinguish the differences, for example, between Darjeeling Makaibari and Darjeeling Lingia. The difference between a drink obtained from the leaves collected in the spring, versus leaves from the same plantation, but harvested in early summer, will be obvious. The best varieties of Darjeeling is consider the "champagne of teas". The methods of processing tea leaves are very traditional, it includes withering, rolling, fermentation and drying, which is why this tea is so highly valued. 
First of all, today there are only 86 existing plantations of Darjeeling with a total area of about 19.000 hectare. Annual production on average is 11-12 thousand tons. This is about 1% of the total cultivated tea in India. It should be be noted that it would be impossible to obtain the taste qualities if Darjeeling if cultivated outside this region, therefore, making it an exclusive beverage. 
The labor on plantations is very tedious and demanding, the normal requires a production force of  about 52 thousand people that are constantly engaged. While in the tea harvesting season, which lasts from March to November, an additional 15 thousand workers are hired. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women.
The collection of tea leaves takes place 4 times per year. The first harvest is the so-called Easter (March-May) begins immediately after the winter lull. Leaves collected at this time are light-green color. The characteristics of a good First Flush Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color infusion. The connoisseurs of Darjeeling tea compare the first collection to tasteful green grapes "muscatel." Perhaps, that is why Darjeeling is called “champagne of teas”. Tea mixture of the first collection is very highly regarded by experts; it consists only of the upper leaves and buds that give this tea such exquisite taste. First Flush Darjeeling is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent harvest from the same plantation.
The second collection takes place during the months of a May - June. Tea leaves collected during this period have a reddish color. Infusion is softer, intense, featuring a bright amber color. Because this tea is collected in the last month of spring and early summer, it has a light fruity aroma and a peculiar aftertaste. Darjeeling from the second collection, also called "In-Between", is considered a tea of high quality and is recommended as an afternoon tea. The leaves and the infusion are already turning darker and the diversity of the flavors varies from full-bodied to slightly aromatic. The "In-Between" is often used as a profitable blend, due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.
The summer collection takes place from June - July. During this period, the properties of the tea leaves are changing, along with the nature of the infusion. It becomes more robust, but it retains all the traditional characteristics of Darjeeling. The taste is a full-bodied, with a distinctive nutmeg note. The third collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.
The last collection, "Autumnal", is October - November. The infusion obtained from the leaves of the autumn collection, has a unique characteristic, the leaves are a light-copper color and has a somewhat milder taste. 
All this together ensures the highest quality of the famous Darjeeling. Because of its exclusivity and small production volumes, forgery of this tea was very popular. It is a big problem for world trade, the number of Darjeeling sold each year is more than 45 thousand tons, despite the fact that its official production is only about 11-12 thousand tons. The falsification and blending of tea has led to a drop in prices for real Darjeeling, resulting in considerable losses for the Indian economy. To prevent further tampering, the Tea Board of India jointly with the Darjeeling Tea Association have agreed that only 86 tea plantations, with special certificates, will be entitled to call their tea "Darjeeling".

Traditional Japanese Tea Pavilion

The Tea Pavilion is one of the most interesting monuments in the world of architecture. Which is unparalleled, not only in the West, but also in the Land of the Rising Sun. 
According to legend, a tea pavilion as a separate building, invented by Rikyu, the greatest of all Japanese tea ceremony masters, who in the XVI century determined its ritual. 
Formally, the tea pavilion (sukiya) is nothing more than a simple thatched hut. It consists of the tea room accommodating up to five people, ante-room (Mizuya) where all supplies for the ritual are washed and arranged before taking in the main room, awning (Matia) under which guests usually expect an invitation to enter, and a garden path (Rhodes) that is connecting the awning and the tea room. 
The Tea Pavilion is a very small building, but every detail in it is carefully chosen. Its construction is more expensive than the construction of a mansion, and the builders carrying out an order of a master of tea ceremony are very respectable caste. 
The style of the tea pavilion is very simple. The situation should help to forget the bustle of the material world, and not to compel attention to its transient luxury. 
Semantic center of the tea pavilion is Tokonoma, a kind of "red corner” of the tea room. During the tea ceremony, a painting, a scroll or an object that specifies a certain mood of the guests of the ceremony is placed in Tokonoma. Flowers - one of the most common attributes of the ritual, traditionally, placed inside. 
Hieroglyph for a tea pavilion (茶室), can be deciphered as "shelter of imagination", "shelter of emptiness" or "shelter asymmetry”. Tea Pavilion, being sparingly decorated, allows to activate the human imagination, which should complete the asymmetry of the place. 
Each tea pavilion is different and, indeed, is unique, as it is created for a specific master at his own request and according to his tastes. The Tea Pavilion is not inherited: when the master dies, the building dies. The Tea Pavilion is an attempt to feel the joy of individually experienced moments of life, rather than enduring symbol of eternity. 
In contrast to the lush of western interior, the interior of the Tea house is extremly simple. Only one piece of art, which is placed in Tokonoma, specifies a certain mindset. According to that piece of art, most often it is flowers or a special type and color of glassware, then the rest of accessories are selected.
No subject in the tea pavilion looks like any other by color or shape. Flowers are never combined with their images, a black bowl is not used in combinations with a black box for storing tea leaves, and even wooden objects are made of different types of trees. The awareness of imperfection and incompleteness is a way to comprehend the world around by trying to find one’s place in it and coming to harmony with it. 
Like everything else in the Japanese culture of tea, the pavilion is a symbol of a certain philosophy of life. A "man" is called to the consonance with the world, harmony, and gain in active spiritual poetic action, not passive contemplation of the surrounding reality, and even more so than merging with it in a wild dance of everyday life.

Tea: The Essence Of The Fragrance

The fragrance of tea depends on the essential oils and tar substances that are contained in plants. Essential oils are complex mixture of substances that belong to the most diverse class of compounds which are soluble in organic solvents and possessing the ability to escape from water vapor. Overall the total content of essential oil is minimal; it is determined by only hundredths of a percent. For example, aromatic black tea contains about 0.02% of oil. Pure essential oil of fresh tea leaf is a green color with a strong fragrance of fresh greens. In the technological processing of tea leaf occurs the formation of a new aromatic substances that contribute to the specific flavor of the finished product. Thus, the composition of essential oil of green plants is different from the finished black tea. The substances that make up the oils can be divided into 4 main classes of compounds: acids, carbonyl compounds, alcohols and phenols. These volatile compounds found in tea are trace amounts - 0.01% of dry matter, but their role in the establishment of the tea flavor is tremendous. 
Some parts of the plant contain different amounts of volatile compounds, which, in turn, differ in their compositions. The maximum concentration of essential oil found in the tender stems and leaves. The top leaf with the growing bud and two next leaves are equivalent to the content of essential oil. Further down the stem, as general coarsening occurs, oil content decreases. Which explains why the top three leaves are the most vaulable for high quality tea. 
In the formation of the aroma of tea, the main role is played by aromatic aldehydes (Organic compound that has OH-group in its structure. They are used in organic synthesis as fragrances). In the composition of essential tea oils are vanilla, lavender, cinnamon aldehydes, etc. During the processing of tea leaves into black tea, the various fractions of volatile compounds undergo significant changes. The total content of these compounds increases most radically in the early stages of rolling. In the process of withering the relative content of components with higher boiling point reduces and low-boiling point, on the contrary, increases. 
Along with essential oils important role in creating a tea aroma played by various resinous substances - carriers of flavor. They are in a close chemical relation with essential oils and are a complex mixture of different classes of organic compounds. 
The content of tarry substances in tea leaves ranges on average from 3% to 6%. These substances are separated by several fractions, the most valuable of which is a neutral faction. It has a pleasant sweet floral aroma. In the process of technological treatment , the amount of this fraction in tea leaves increases by 40%. 
During the processing of tea leaves, the content of resinous substances decreases, indicating the result of oxidation. I.e. ratio: fresh leaves – 3.48%, withered leaves – 3.27%, after two hours of curling – 2.92%, semi-finished product – 2.35%. 
Through fragrance of tea, all the deficiencies that have arisen as a result of violations of technological regimens or improper storage of products, can easily be found. Disadvantages may include: acidity, mustiness, smell of the green, smoke and other uncharacteristic for tea scents. Most difficult to improve defect is acidity, which results in a violation of the fermentation process. Since in the processing of tea leaves, especially during the fermentation, occurs a reduction of Tannin. Therefore, the tea produced in violation of this process turns out with a bitter flavor and pale color of infusion. The cause of the smell of greenery is an infringement of withering, rolling, and fermentation. Such a tea has a mild flavor that the brew is a greenish color in the cup with a greenish ring on the surface and instead of the characteristic astringent taste; this product has a bitter taste. If there is excessive moisture in semi-finished product (more than 7.5%) tea is aging much faster. For extended storage. it gets the smell of dampness and can come in unsuitable conditions for consumption. 
In addition, it is worth noting that different varieties of tea, as well as different ways of brewing, have an imprint on the final quality of the drink

A Wonderful Tea Schedule For The Entire Day

Every profound, self-respecting tea connoisseur has a collection consistent of several teas, where each type is brewed depending on time of the day, occasion, company or just the mood. Typically such a collection of teas includes:

- Teas for breakfast

- Afternoon teas

- Evening teas

In addition, during each occassion, several varieties of teas can be served.

Tea for breakfast - This tea should invigorate and tone the body and mind. The taste of this drink should be rich and strong. In addition, tea for breakfast is often served with muffins, scones, sweet breads, therefore it should be perfectly balanced with flavors. The most popular teas for breakfast are:

English Breakfast Black Tea Blend with a marvellously dark infusion and malty spiciness, best when slightly sweetened with a dash of milk or cream.

Irish Breakfast Black Tea Blend with a deep dark infusion and character spice. A definite “must have” for each tea lover.

Afternoon tea - Such a beverage is usually drank after a good lunch without milk or sugar, so it will help digestion and vigilance. The selection of afternoon tea should be approached with particular care because this social beverage prompts friendly conversations. If we generalize the basic properties and characteristics of mid-day tea, then the tea will have the following form:

Not too strong, must have a rich flavor, with exquisite and delicate aroma, but the main thing it is understandable and enjoyable not only for the host, but also for every guest. The most popular afternoon teas:

Earl Grey  ( black or green tea blend)  lightly flavored with fine bergamot oil that forms a harmonious basis for the popular, fruity, hot drink.

Caramel Black Tea Blend comes up to the highest expectations with its tempting creamy caramel pieces and the sweet, full caramel flavor with an unforgettable vanilla note.

Cinnamon Roll Black Tea Blend with perfectly balanced taste of expressive cinnamon flavor. Quite simple and perfect.

Jasmine Green Tea with intense bouquet of jasmine and delicate taste.

Oolong, White tea, Green tea…pure and flavored, regular and decafeinated… The list of choices are endless, the world of tea is infinite!

Evening tea - This tea is usually chosen using special blends, which include different varieties of teas, they are mostly with little or no caffeine content, not very strong and have a pleasant, delicate taste and aroma.  Rooibos, Honeybush, Ayurvedic, Herbal and Fruit blends are the most popular evening teas. Evening teas offer soothing aroma and taste to relax the body and mind for a better night sleep.