We snapped the photo above as we finally sat down after our work was done, and watched the sun rise over the ridge below Phoenix Mountain in Lugu, Taiwan. The third and final shift of processing the spring crop of Traditional Dong Ding Oolong Tea began at midnight and was completed as the sun rose.
We worked the blue rolling machine and the green conveyor belt dryer on the left, and bundled the leaves collected in a basket as they cascaded from the primary drying machine. The master on the right performed the crucial step of tumble heating, when the leaves are exposed to high heat in large rotating cylinders heated to 300°C.
Prior to the tumble heating, rolling, and primary drying phase that begins late in the evening on the day of harvest, there are two previous phases in the making of Oolong Tea. The first phase of processing the freshly plucked tea leaves is solar withering — where the leaves are spread out on tarps and exposed to sunlight, that is often filtered through mesh shade cloth. This kickstarts the long slow withering process that is prerequisite to the essential effect of partial oxidation of whole leaf tea. Solar withering is the foundation of Oolong Tea processing. This is followed by many hours of slow indoor withering, with intermittent shuffling, and finally tumbling in a large woven bamboo cylinder. We arrived at our friend's home factory as the tumbling and final withering stage was in effect.
The racks of woven bamboo trays filled with tea leaves that are now covered are when the leaves are in their culmination of the oxidation phase, and will soon undergo tumble heating. The leaves are actually quite warm with rapid transformation of the chemical compounds within the leaves. This — is when the magic of Oolong Tea making happens, in the last few hours of withering and oxidation before they are fixed by tumble heating.
The final late shift is the most active phase of Oolong Tea processing, where the leaves are being moved from one step to the next in fairly quick procession. Tumble heating for less than ten minutes, rolling for just a few minutes, and then spreading the leaves onto the conveyer belt drying to air out and cool down before being collected into baskets and bundled. They then set for several hour before being brought to the rolling and drying factory.
The quick-moving procession from one step to the next in the late night shift passes the time smoothly and — before you know it, it's dawn! It's a marathon of a tea making process, but it's so well worth it in the end! Oh, did we mention that this traditional version, along with the modern roasted version of Dong Ding Oolong are our all time faves? Our spring batch of Traditional Dong Ding Oolong tea was destemmed and roasted at low temperature for just six hours — to remove any remaining moisture, resulting in a cleaner, more distinctly flavorful brew. We invite you to share in this batch of tea of which we got to participate in the making.
WATCH THE VIDEO
LET US KNOW!
Please post any questions or comments you may have in the comments section below!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to hear more about the specialty tea industry here in Taiwan, follow us on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram and please subscribe to our newsletter. Subscribe now and get US$5 off your first order.