Oolong originated from Fujian, China, with its practices perfected in Taiwan, with Dong Ding oolong being the most renowned. For hundreds of years, harvesting Dong Ding oolong involved arduous treks across the region’s mountains and rivers. A rising demand for such tea, coupled with a labour shortage, meant that tea producers had to streamline the process; a modern “standard tea production method” has since replaced what traditionally relied on experience and climate.
This new process gives the tea a leafy “high mountain” aroma, a result of insufficient fermentation of prematurely-picked leaves that is often mistaken for Dong Ding’s famed flavours. What Yoshan Tea seeks is Dong Ding oolong’s true flavours—with those distinctive throat-cooling sweet notes so robust and unforgettable the flavours have been described “as an entering into one's bones”. Only by harvesting ripe tea leaves, letting them ferment sufficiently, and then roasting them for an appropriate amount of time does that full-bodied sweetness of Dong Ding Oolong come to the fore. Such finesse is what Yoshan Tea insists its tea-making process achieves.
Yoshan Tea harvests by standard plucking. During gathering, the thenar space located between the thumb and index finger is used as a guide for picking length. The tea buds, full of amino acids, give tea its distinct aftertaste, while the second and third leaves provide sweetness and fragrance. The correct picking method is essential to achieving a balance of a tea’s aroma and taste.
The traditional method of picking tea leaves.
Monorail system for transporting tea leaves.
The outdoor withering process takes away the “grassy” flavor in tea. It lets excess water evaporate, while allowing sunshine to bring out tea’s inherent warm, refreshing fragrance.
Carefully laying tea leaves out to dry.
The tea leaves must be turned over appropriately, allowing them to be heated evenly.
The indoor withering process further removes excess moisture, and begins the fermentation process by waving the tea leaves. The unique aroma of oolong comes from an appropriate degree of fermentation.
Gentle stirring can produce a good taste.
Strong waving is for uniform the fermentation.
The high temperatures in the firing process stops the fermentation of the tea. Timing is key here: bring the temperatures up too fast the tea leaves burn and dry out outside yet remain under-fired inside; fire them too slow and they age. Pan-firing at the optimal temperature and for the optimal duration is an art tea masters cultivate for years.
Touching the leaves to sense the degree to which the tea leaves have been cooked.
Preserving the tea aroma and halting fermentation by cooking at high temperatures.
The tea leaves are gently squeezed to damage their surface. Which helps accentuate the flavor when brewing tea. Rolling the softened leaves takes skill. Applying too much strength crushes and damages the tea leaves, which results in a murky tea with impure flavors. Insufficient pressure results in tea that is weak and bland.
Modern tea rolling machine.
Early manually operated tea rolling machine.
Tea leaves kneaded into half-spheres is oolong’s most distinct form-feature. Kneading helps tea develop deeper flavors. The strength and degree of kneading are again an art: leaf-balls that are too compactly kneaded may not un-furl to their fullness; yet, kneaded too loosely, the resulting tea will turn out thin and weak.
The packaging machine tightens the tea ball making it as hard as a rock.
The rolling motion (similar to forming a dum - pling) of the flat kneading machine makes the tea leaves curly.
The roasting process has neither fixed steps nor rules; its methods are based on the types of tea desired. As Taiwanese oolong tea leaves are compact half-spheres, the challenge is in getting them to roast evenly throughout. If either duration or temperature is off, the tea leaves can be burnt on the outside, and stay under-roasted on the inside. After a period of time, the grassy raw tea flavor, known as tu jing will re-emerge. Only tea leaves that are roasted to the right degree become stable, high-quality tea.
Roasting using an oven-type tea roasting machine.
Roasting using an electric roasting basket.