Meeting a Tea Engineer
Today we went to see Ms Lee and her son who are the Dragonwell tea farmers we work with. Ms Lee is very concerned about how much green tea Americans drink: Do they understand why green tea is good? Do they drink a lot of it? It's very healthy for you. How is business? I explained that while people do drink green tea in the US, that loose leaf tea drinkers tend to prefer oolong and puerh teas. That's why I buy the best Dragonwell, so that people will fall in love with this tea and want more. And in turn that's why it's so important to keep making great tea (as opposed to commercial grade teas). I want to show Americans the best of what she's got.
We walked around her small village and up a back road to meet Mr Lee (no relation) who is a Tea Engineer. He won the 2007 tea processors' First Place prize for his ability to process Dragonwell tea in a dry wok. He has a unique and well developped ability to know when the tea is just dry enough. Most of LJ tea processing is about three factors: 1) getting just the right amount of moisture out of the leaf. 2) getting all the leaves to all point the same direction, (imagine holding your three middle fingers up and spreading them wide: this is incorrect, the tea is "splayed". Now, hold them tightly together, and that's what Dragonwell tea should look like, aligned. This is what i mean by all pointing in the same direction.) 3) the leaves should be FLAT, flat as a pancake. During the last step of processing the tea is pushed into the bottom of the wok and this is called the Grind, and you should see the shoulder strength it takes to push push push this tea flat.
During high season, Mr Lee sleeps 4 hours a night, so he's in for a long month. This harvest is shaping up well, and he'll have a lot of work in the coming days. That's a good thing for Hangzhou, and it bodes well for American tea drinkers too.
More tomorrow on tea processing. Stay tuned!
Check out Red Circle Tea's 2011 Green tea selection here.