The best teas in China are made from buds and leaves picked in Spring. The tea bushes flush several times in the spring, offering varied teas with distinctive character. In Africa picking of tea leaves for making black tea occurs almost throughout the year, but in China leaves picked after the spring are the later ‘summer’ teas, which are usually everyday teas.
Once any fruit or leaf is picked, it will begin to dehydrate, and oxidize (sometimes called fermentation) if the cell structure is fractured by handling, bruising or compaction. Oxidation can be encouraged by bruising or slowed and stopped completely by drying or baking. Because of this and with a history of thousands of years, it is not surprising that tea production is based on the core methods of preparing food. So heating in woks, pans and pots or steaming in colanders are all common, traditional tea curing processes. As with some foods, drying is an important pre-cursor to preparation.
The nature and quality of a tea infusion is also dependent on the shape and texture of the leaf. For example, the greatest Japanese tea masters still roll tea leaves by hand for up to six hours on heated paper tables, to bring out the extraordinary flavour and subtle savoury taste or ‘umami’ of the highest quality steamed gyokuro. Our Jasmine Dragon Pearls are rolled to enclose the fine jasmine aroma, that is released only when the leaf unfurls during brewing.
So, like fine cooking, fine tea-making is an artisan craft that requires great skill to coax the most flavour, fragrance and character out of the finest natural produce. Tea Masters, similarly to award-winning chefs, rely on experience, knowledge, quality produce and a great deal of intuition to ensure that timing is perfected and the right curing processes are chosen. Raw leaf character changes from week to week and constant alterations and adjusting of curing strategies.
All this means that our descriptions of types of tea must necessarily be broad generalisations. However, we do hope you find them of interest.
True white teas, although not needing complex processing, require skillful handling to bring out the distinctive flavour profiles. Traditionally green teas are either pan-fired or steamed and there are many regional variations in the techniques used, which include withering, rolling and firing.Dark green teas, such as Da Hong Pao, Tikuanyin, Feng Huang Dan Cong are called Qingcha by the Chinese, and Oolongs by late 19th century European tea traders in Formosa. They have the edges of their leaves bruised by tossing in a revolving basket or drum, rolled or pressed, thus speeding up oxidation. The leaves are semi-oxidized before heating stops the process.
Over 1000 years ago Chinese producers began to steam green leaves and then compress them in to cakes; the most popular of which is pu’er or puerh, with its strong, earthy, slightly sweet taste.
Black teas (described as red tea by the Chinese) were first developed in China in 1855 for the Western market who preferred a stronger brew and are 80% - 100% oxidized (fermented). As in green teas, these are withered, and are then rolled to break the cell structure to enable oxidization to take place. Traditionally in China, the teas are then broken up and spread out in a cool, humid atmosphere, so absorbing more oxygen, turning the leaves from a dull green to a reddish brown. To prevent any further oxidation, the teas are then fired in the large woks or kilns, turning the tea black. In India and Africa the processes are highly mechanised.
There are a variety of techniques employed to flavour teas. At Dragonfly we adhere to ancient and natural methods. For our Moonlight Jasmine Green Tea, fine teas are layered at night with fresh, delicately scented jasmine blossom, which are painstakingly removed each morning. This process is repeated up to six times,The more common and economical way to produce jasmine teas is to flavour using sprays. You can easily taste the difference. The same is true with Earl Grey. Ours is a traditional blend of organic black teas and real, natural organic Oil of Bergamot - many others use synthetic flavourings.
All herbal, flower and fruit infusions are simply dried and should not contain any Camelia Sinensis. Two of the most popular are Peppermint and Camomile. Dragonfly infusions are 100% pure, with the leaves or flowers specially dried in hot air chambers for four hours to ensure that the volatile oils remain potent.
For a summary chart of the production of different teas, please click here.