Loose Leaf Oolong Tea: The Process Of Fermentation

by Elena Popec 24. September 2010 12:39

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!

Tea: The Essence Of The Fragrance

by Steven Popec 29. April 2010 20:37

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

Pu-Erh Is The Perfect Remedy For Living A Healthy Lifestyle

by Elena Popec 24. February 2010 20:50

Pu-Erh is a tea of emperors and commanders. In ancient times, soldiers were drinking Pu-Erh before battling to gather strength, find resoluteness and have confidence in victory. Today, this tea is popular among business people. Pu-Erh helps to concentrate on making important decisions and preparing for crucial meetings and lengthy negotiations. Pu-Erh assists to live an active, varied life. You can dance all night in the club and in the morning, appear in the office fresh and rested after an extraordinary cup of tea.

Pu-Erh

Pu-Erh grows in the Province Yunnan, the most southwestern province in China where more than a thousand years, tea is produced. Yunnan is the country of fog, mild sun and tea trees.Today, in an era of civilization and mechanisms, the best Pu-Erh is still being handcrafted by people that possess a special inner sense, processing an understanding of tea, they know the time when Pu-Erh becomes Pu-Erh and pass on their knowledge from generation to generation. In order to obtain a deep color infusions, strong mild taste and long-lasting fragrance, this tea is aged for several years in special conditions. Pu-Erh is the only kind of tea that gets better with time. The optimal storage time for different kinds of Pu-Erh is from 10 to 30 years. A collection of aged Pu-Erh can be appraised higher than the collection of vintage wines.

The beauty of Pu-Erh is not only in its unusual taste and aroma. Despite the fact that this tea contains a small amount of caffeine, it invigorates and improves the efficiency better than coffee. This is the best drink for the morning, but is not recommended for the evening. High-quality and properly brewed Pu-Erh is very beneficial for one’s health. It helps digestion, normalizes metabolism, lowers high blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, improves skin condition, reduces the risk of cancer, removes toxins and facilitates the alcohol withdrawal syndrome or overeating. Pu-Erh is the only tea that may inhibit the growth of peptic ulcers. Regular consumption of Pu-Erh contributes to weight loss and rejuvenates the body. It would be better to say that Pu-Erh helps to maintain the body to be the way it should be.

As all types of tea, Pu-Erh is made from the leaves of the plant Camellia Sinensis. Top grade Pu-Erh obtained from the leaves collected from tea trees, not tea bushes. The older the tree, the more exquisite Pu-Erh brewed from its leaves. In the Pu-Erh county of Chinese province Yunnan which gave the name of this group of teas, grow some of the trees that are about a thousand years old. Pu-Erh made out of leaves from such trees is valued particularly high. In the forests of Burma, Vietnam, Laos and eastern India, found wild tea trees yielding a smaller amount but not less valuable harvest. The leaves of wild trees are gentler with a refreshing "menthol" aftertaste. They do not tolerate rough handling. From the leaves of wild trees the only loose leaf (not pressed) Pu-Erh is obtained.

For the production of Pu-Erh, green tea leaves are used. After gathering, they are dried in the sun, roasted and kept for several months. After the drying process, the leaves are pressed, which produces a "raw" or "green Pu-Erh”, similar to the properties of green tea. This Pu-Erh does not have a delicate aroma and exquisite taste, but is simple to prepare and inexpensive. In China, this tea is not considered a real Pu-Erh and called Mao-cha (coarse tea). This tea has been popular among nomads and Tibetan monks.

To get a "mature Pu-Erh", the dried leaves are subjected to a secondary drying and post-fermentation, using modern accelerated technology to produce the mature Pu-Erh. The leaves are sprayed with water, collected in heaps or placed in rooms with high humidity with the help of microorganisms, a process called fermentation takes place. The higher the humidity, the faster the fermentation process, but the aroma and taste of tea leaves is much to be desired. In addition, excessive moisture leads to mold development.

By traditional technology, Pu-Erh is aged in dry areas. In the province of Yunnan many factories and private facilities are located where the Pu-Erh is produced by using old recipes. Different bacteria cultures and different organizations of the fermentation process have a major impact on the taste, aroma and healing properties of Pu-Erh. The period of fermentation for high quality Pu-Erh lasts at least 6 months. With the growing popularity, Pu-Erh prepared by traditional technology is becoming increasingly difficult because more and more manufacturers use a quick simplified method of fermentation.

The last stage of preparation of Pu-Erh is pressing. Tea is lightly steamed to soften and skillfully pressed into the desired shape (brick, pancake, rectangular blocks, bird nests, mushrooms or melons) then dried and wrapped in cloth. Bricks and pancakes of pressed Pu-Erh can weigh from 100g to 5kg. Pressed in a flat square, Pu-Erh is suitable material for the creation of embedded pictures, but “bird nests” which are designed for one portion, are more practical for a busy lifestyle.

When buying Pu-Erh, one should pay attention to its fragrance and structure of the pressed leaves. Good quality Pu-Erh tea is characterized by a pronounced aroma of dried fruits with earthy notes. The smell of mold is an indicator of improper storage.  If there is an opportunity to taste Pu-Erh before buying, evaluate the color of the infusion and depth of flavor.  Also pay attention to the leaves remaining after brewing. Well-preserved whole leaves are an indicator of high quality Pu-Erh. A Quality loose leaf Pu-Erh usually has a delicate fragrant and pale color. loose leaf Pu-Erh can be appreciated only by experienced tea drinkers (connoisseurs).

Preparation of Pu-Erh

Tea Pot

Since Pu-erh has a very strong flavor and rich color; it is not recommended to brew this tea in clay teapots. Clay absorbs all smells and any other tea brewed in the same teapot will taste similar to Pu-Erh. The rich color of this tea will look good in a glass or porcelain cup. Quality Pu-Erh can be steeped a lot of times, therefore use a small teapot and small bowls. To maximize the healing effects of Pu-Erh, it should be  drank without sugar and other sweets. A small amount of dried fruits or dark chocolate is quite acceptable.                                                                        

One “bird nest” or “mini tuocha” is good for multiple infusions. To "revive" and clean tea, pour some hot water; let it sit for 1 minute, and then drain the brew. This act will clear and warm the tea because the Pu-Erh has been waiting to meet you for several years, so allow its strong and earthy flavor to unfold softly. The first brew of Pu-Erh should be steeped up to 45 seconds, and then subsequent brewing time should be increased. This tea is an excellent representative of Chinese teas that surprise consumers with the originality and complexity of flavor bouquet.


Boiling is an old method of preparing pressed teas. The most spectacular brewing of Pu-Erh is in a glass teapot when the stages of heating water and the behavior of tea leaves can be observed. When brewing Pu-Erh, the process is very important not to miss the stage called “crab eye”, when small bubbles start rising from the bottom of the kettle. At this stage, 1-2 cups of water should be poured out of teapot and then poured back, this stage is called "noise in the pines"  - the muffled sound prior to boiling. Thus, the water becomes rejuvenated and is ready to accept the tea. Pre-soaked in cold water, the Pu-Erh is introduced to the water prior to boiling. At the first stage of boiling - "string of pearls”, the teapot is removed from the fire and set aside for 30-60 seconds. The boiling process for this type of tea requires experience because of the excessive brewing time which makes the Pu-Erh infusion turbid, bitter and unpalatable. Another disadvantage of this method is that it is not economical. Boiled tea cannot be brewed again.

 

The Wonderful health benefits of White Tea

by Elena Popec 16. February 2010 20:42

White tea is truly a pearl among the different varieties of tea. These teas are a specialty of the Chinese province Fujian. White tea is the most expensive, and this fact is not surprising because white tea is widely considered the most effective (health-giving). It contains a maximum amount of useful substances and vitamins, which are found in the other varieties of teas in smaller amounts due to fermentation process.

White tea is one of the rarest teas in the world: the buds are picked before they unfurl, which means the tea can only be plucked for a few weeks each spring only in the morning from 5 to 9 AM. White teas have a very strict procedure for the plucking and processing. The tea pickers are prohibited from eating spices, garlic, onions, and consuming alcohol, as well as other strong-fragrant foods in order not to contaminate the aroma of tea leaves. The unopened buds and two young leaves are plucked by handWhite Tea then withered to allow natural drying. White tea is minimally processed, therefore contains the higher level of antioxidants. The main difference of white tea is that it leaves are not broken or twisted, which is why tea looks a little sloppy. The fermentation of white tea is a natural way without the use of any special technological innovations. In fact, the process of drying of white tea is the only process where manufacturers can somehow affect the final product. That is why the drying process is approached with special care.

High-quality white tea leaves remain whole after the drying process despite the fact that they become distorted, the leaves maintain maximum integrity. Another characteristic feature of good white tea is the presence of small silver fibers on the leaves.

White tea requires very careful handling. If you already shelled out for expensive and good product, try to brew it so as to preserve the maximum benefit and enjoy this drink. For brewing white tea, use water at a temperature ranging from 176 to 194 degrees F, and steep it not longer than 2-3 minutes. If water used is too hot it will not allow the unique aroma of white tea to unfold. White tea should be stored in a tin box, so there is no access to different odors, since it instantly absorbs all extraneous scents. The brewed liquid has lightly amber color with a slight greenish tint. It is very transparent with thin unique floral, slightly herbal flavor.

There are few traditions and rules imposed to the consumption of white teas. The fact that subtle and delicate taste of white tea is fairly weak, tea drinkers should not enjoy white tea after spicy, salty or astringent foods, because of strong food aftertaste. Therefore, white tea should be drunk by itself.  For those who prefer to add a fruity accent to white tea, ESP Emporium offers an innovated White Grape Premium Tea blend. It is your turn to decide whether our choice was the correct one. Fresh juice from sun-ripened grapes,  red berries and the blue/violet color of blossoms, set on a bed of rich green (China Pai Mu Tan, China Cui Min), invite you to simply enjoy this excellent blend.

White teas, regardless of grade offer great benefits to our body. They are rich in antioxidants and slow down skin aging process, prevent the emergence of malignant tumors. White tea also has an antiviral effect, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

 

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