Postfermented Tea

Postfermented Tea 黑茶 Hei Cha, literally “black tea”, often named “Pu Er” tea

A very old Chinese specialty is Heicha, literally “black tea”. In the West we call it “postfermented” tea in order to avoid confusion with the Hongcha, the Chinese “red tea”, which is our “black tea”. These teas are produced following a stereotypical basic scheme; the exact procedure can however vary and is kept secret. The plucked leaves are withered, fired in a wok with moderate temperature, formed in rotary drums, sometimes also rolled and dried in the sun or with hot air. This half-finished tea is called Mao Cha, which means “hairy/unfinished tea”. Important here is that the enzymes in the leaves are not deactivated, natural fermentation and oxydation takes place after the processing. This is why the tea is called “postfermented”. Many of these teas are fermented before they are finally dried. In this process the tea is subdued to a fermentation that is specially accelerated by humans, the so-called Rengong Houfajiao, which makes it become old in a way. The Mao Cha is being piled up to heaps in which heat and moisture is at work. These piles are moved from time to time. In a process lasting for about three months, which consists in a fermentation induced by natural microorganisms, most of all bacteria and certain kinds of yeast and other fungi contained in the air, the chemical structure of the tea leaves is totally transformed. At the same time an oxidation with atmospheric oxygen takes place. In the end the tea is dried and sometimes heavily roasted. Those teas are dark red and black in leaf and cup from the beginning on, which leads to their name Heicha, black tea. Pu Er and Liu Bao teas can also be processed as Sheng Cha, which means “raw/living tea” without fermentation before being dried. Fermentation in this case only takes place through the microorganisms contained in the air after a certain time, causing the still greenish tea to get its dark colour. Strictly speaking those teas can only be called Heicha after a certain age (and hence state of fermentation). In the same way, Oolong teas that have been stored for a quite a while are sometimes called Heicha. The historical origins of Heicha are not clear, but quite probably this way of tea processing emerged soon after or even before the green tea production did.

Pressed forms

Tuocha, Zhuancha and Bingcha are all different pressed forms. The classic Bingcha, “Cake-Tea”, weigh seven Liang, which corresponds to about 350-375g. There are smaller cakes too, however. Tuocha, “Tear (shaped) Tea” are hemispheres weighing about 100, 250 grams or even more. Zhuancha, “Brick Tea”, are produced in different sizes. The right quantity of tea leaves to be pressed is first weighed, then this portion of dried leaves is softened with steam and formed by hand in a jute bag. The bag is then placed into a mould with a heavy stone on top. The tea is quickly pressed for a last time in a press into its ultimate form, then exposed to dry and wrapped into paper. In order to store these teas in the right way they need air, a good temperate room climate and some air humidity.

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea 乌龙茶 Wulong Cha, also Brown tea

A vast category fullof many varieties is the Wulongcha, which means “Black Dragon Tea”. In order to obtain big leaves they are plucked quite late in the season. Depending on the region there are harvests during spring and autumn/winter. In difference to other types of tea it is not “two leaves and a bud”, but a stem with three to five big leaves on it which is plucked. In the case of the ball-leaved Oolong the stem is being processed along with the leaves. The fresh leaves are exposed to the sun or laid out in the shade as a first step and then they are brought indoors to cool out. They are loosened up by shaking, which partially breaks up the cell structure. This enables the leaf substances to come into contact with the leaves’ enzymes, which start oxidising the former by connecting them to the oxygen of the air. This process is, wrongly, also called fermentation. After the shaking, the leaf material is thus piled up in portions and left to oxidise/ferment over night, while the shaking is repeated with increasing intensity. Depending on how often the leaves are shaken, the thickness of the piles, time, temperature and moisture, leaves oxidise more or less intensely. As all Oolongs are oxidised (fermented) with a degree of ten to fifty percent they are also called “half-fermented teas”. When the oxidising process has come to an end the leaves are rolled and heated in rolling machines and heated rotary drums. We speak here again of Sha Qing, “killing the green”, which means again the complete deactivation of enzymes; however, enzymes are not totally deactivated, which means that the tea is still alive and changes over time when stored. Finally, Oolong teas are dried with hot air, fire or charcoal. Roasting the tea over charcoal can be done immediately after the tea has been dried or even later. Depending on the heat the tea is not only dried here, but also changes in taste. The production of Oolong teas probably emerged around 1500 on the Wudong mountain in Phoenix and came over Anxi to Wuyishan and Taiwan.

Green Tea

Green Tea 绿茶 Lü Cha

Depending on the kind and quality of the tea bushes, two leaves and a bud, one leaf and the bud or only the bud are plucked and laid out in the shade indoors and/or outside for a short time to lose some of their moisture. The leaf material is heated up strongly then. This process is called Sha Qing in Chinese, which means “killing the green”, and deactivates all the enzymes in the leaves, thus preventing any oxidation and fermentation for now. It can be done in four different ways: drying in the sun, steaming (water steam), baking (with hot air) and roasting (in the wok). When the leaves are cooled out they are formed and dried. The very most green teas are plucked during spring (March/April), but there are also harvests during summer. Green tea is the oldest way of tea production, in the form of leaf tea however it only dates back to the 12th century – before that, leaves were steamed and pressed. Roasting and baking has been known since the 16th century. In Japan tea production started in the 12th century, and still today the old steaming method is used. Green teas always have a very present tart and slightly bitter note to them, and especially cheaper qualities can turn over the really bitter end of the taste spectrum.

Yellow Tea

Yellow Tea 黄茶 Huang Cha

The process of yellow tea production is similar to the green tea’s. The plucked leaves are exposed to wither for a somewhat longer time than those used for green tea, so that they lose part of their moisture. They are then fired or heated either in a wok or with hot air. Then the still quite moist leaf material is piled up, wrapped into paper and packed for the so-called “close and stuffy yellowing” process (Men Huang in Chinese), during which a spontaneous fermentation takes place. In a controlled, moist and warm environment, the tea has to be unpacked, moved and restacked over and over again during the yellowing process in order not to perish. Nowadays, most yellow teas are “yellowed” only for a really short time, i.e. produced in a similar way to the green teas’. At the end of the procedure, the leaf material is dried in a wok, with hot air and/or on charcoal. Besides aromas similar to those of green teas, yellow teas have a typical, slightly smoky, but also a mellow and sweet note. The infusion is variably strong depending on every individual kind.

White Tea

White Tea 白茶 Bai Cha

In order to produce white tea, the plucked leaves are exposed to the sun for a very long time, and thereafter often laid out in a kind of aerated greenhouse, so that the process can take place in any weather. Other teas are being withered in the shade for even longer periods of time. What happens during this whole process of withering is a kind of spontaneous oxidation, during which the chlorophyll oxidises. The leaves’ cell structure remains intact, though. The leaf material is dried by hot air or on charcoal after the withering process is finished. White teas are usually plucked during spring (March/April). This type of tea processing first appeared around 1780 in Jianyang in the province of Fujian. The traditional white teas come from Zhenghe and above all Fuding, which both lie somewhat east of Jianyang, but nowadays they are produced in many places. White teas are usually quite subtle in taste and without bitter constituents, yet still very aromatic.



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