30 January 2018

History of tea and production process

How to order tea in Taiwan: HERE

Tea culture in Taiwan includes tea arts and traditional ceremonies. Tea shops can be found all around Taiwan. 
First wild tea trees in Taiwan was discovered over 300 years ago but they wasn't grown for consumption as it is nowadays. About 200 years ago Taiwanese people took tea trees from Fujian, China and planted them in North of Taiwan. After this time tea become very popular and cultivated all around this country. 
The climate in Taiwan is one of the best in the world for growing tea. The high mountain ranges, a lot of sunshine and rain made teas growing here one of the best teas in the world. 
Tea flavor is determined by oxidation and fermentation time, also the place they grow makes them has special flavor. 

History of tea in North of Taiwan 

In 1860s, Tamsui was constructed as a harbor. The harbour was used to import the tea varieties, masters and workers from Fujian, China by foreign businesmens. They started grow tea leaves in the northern part of Taiwan, especially located in Hsinchu in large scale. In 1876, the Qing Dynasty encouraged the cultivation of tea trees. 
Liu Ming-chuan (Taiwan's governor in 1885-1891) supported the tea industry with more incentives. He also improved production process. 
At that time, there were several noted tea gardens, where produced crude tea and transported it to the distribution market. Then, tea dealers purchased and sold it to Dadaocheng tea houses or trade companies which reproduced the tea for export.
During Qing Dynasty, the tea grown in Taoyuan and Hsinchu was transported by porters to Daxi and Hsinchu. Then, carried through river and sea transportation to Tamsui and Dadaocheng. In the beginning of Japanese occupation, some rails were built, which helped the tea transport. 

During the Japanese era, government started to improve varieties of tea and making techniques. Government supported and protected the tea industry. Also laboratories, schools, model tea gardens, and subsidies to the construction of tea factories and facilities was created. Due to attention and encouragement of the government, the area of tea gardens in Hsinchu at least doubled. The efficiency increased by 1.4 times. 
Small tea businesses started to join each other into medium and large tea companies, which improved producing tea and quality. This way boosted the appearance of some famous tea factories, such as Jiang Family in Beipu and Lo Family in Guansi. At this time, black tea could be sold to tea houses and trade companies, exported abroad through Japanese corporations and by themselves. In 1937, Lo Family in Guansi founded the Formosa Black Tea Co. Ltd. and remade black tea for exportation. It had become the second-largest Taiwanese tea manufacturer during the Japanese colonial era. 

Development of tea industry after war  

In 1945, the tea industry Taiwan, which was severely affected by the war in the past, revived again. While the other tea- producing countries were damaged by the war and hadn't recovered yet, the tea from Taiwan quickly took favorable position in the global export market. It was the golden age of tea. 
After 1950, India, Sri Lanka and Java started to produce tea again, so the competitiveness of Taiwan's black tea weakened. At that time the green tea became popular. Many tea factories in Hsinchu purchased new machines and facilities to produce green tea. In 1960, Taiwan's green tea couldn't compete with tea from China and Japan anymore. When gradually losing its competitiveness, the Formosa Black Tea Co. Ltd. took the lead importing machines producing green tea from Japan and sharing Japanese techniques of tea production with others in the same business.
 In 1970-1980s a large amount of Taiwan's green tea was exported to Japan. After 1981, Taiwan's economy boosted rapidly, many young people crowded into cities, which led to aging population of tea farmers. More and more tea farmers gave up tea mountains and found another way of living. Therefore Nantou surpassed Hsinchu as the number one county with the largest production volume of tea in 1989.

In 1998, the first "Beipu Pong-Feng Festival was held jointly by the Council of Agriculture, Hsinchu County Government, Beipu Township Farmers' Association, Beipu's tea farmers and local culture offices. At the festival, Pong-Feng Tea was packaged and marketed in Hakka culture. The promotion was successful and the tea industry in Beipu revived. The first Hakka Pounded Tea house in Beipu was established in 1999. Nowadays there are around 60 tea houses. In 2000-2001, also in Emei, industrial and cultural activities were held. The success of Pong-Feng Festival and Hakka Pounded Tea lied in the concept of "traditional innovation, innovative tradition". The tea industry in Hsinchu to revived again.

Main kinds of tea

You can find 5 main kind of tea: white, green, oolong, black and puer tea. The most common tea consumed in Taiwan are oolongs. 

Oolongs (烏龍茶) are semi-oxidized teas, the process includes withering plants under strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. Some of most famous oolong teas are Alishan, Lishan, Dongfang Meiren (Oriental Beauty), Jin Xuan. 
Oolong teas should be prepared with 93-96 degree C water and steeped 2-3 minutes. Usually used 3 g of tea per 200 ml of water. The ceremony of steeping oolong tea is called gongfucha. For this ceremony is used a small vessel with more amount of tea. The tea is brewed few times for 20-60 seconds and served is small tea cups.

Green teas (綠茶) are totally unoxidized but have stronger flavor. The water used for brewing need to be 61-87 degree C, higher temperature make the flavor bitter. Usually 2 g of tea is used per 100 ml of water and the tine of brewing 30 seconds - 3 minutes. 

White tea (白茶) are made of young or minimally processed tea leaves. Some teas are made from buds and immature leaves. Brewed tea is pale yellow.   

Black tea (紅茶) is more oxidized than oolong, green and white teas and stronger in flavor. In Chinese is called red tea due to it's color after brewing.
Black tea retains its flavor for several years. For this reason it was used for trade and "currency" in Mongolia, Tibet and Siberia in 19th century. 90% of all teas sold in West are black teas. 
Usually for brewing are used 4 g of tea per 200 ml of water. The water should be 90-95 degree C and following time of brewing 60 seconds, 40 seconds and 60 seconds. Every next brewing should be few seconds longer. 

Puer tea (普洱茶) is a kind of fermented tea known also as dark tea (黑茶). The tea production involves microbial fermentation and oxidation of tea leaves after they have been dried and rolled. Puer can be sold as "rough" maocha (毛茶) or pressed in different shapes "raw" shengcha (生茶).

Naming of Oriental Beauty Tea

Oriental Beauty Tea (Pong-Feng Tea) was originally named Taiwan Oolong Tea. Oolong tea is a fermented tea, similar to black tea. It's made from young buds with white tips. Thus tea it's also called Baihau (white-tip) Oolong Tea, Champagne Oolong Tea or Pong-Feng Tea. 
A hundred years old British businessmen presented this tea to Queen Victoria, who was amazed by its special fragrance. Also this tea grown in the east of Taiwan looked lovely like a beauty. Later oin it was given the name of Oriental Beauty Tea. 

According to legend, some tea gardens was invaded and damaged by insect pests. Some tea farmers, didn't want to suffer that mush loses, still carried their tea to the city for sale. The tea became very popular due to its special flavor and was totally purchased by the trade companies. The tea farmers told others about this story but were considered that they were "pong-feng (boasting). Therefore this tea was named Pong-Feng

Production of Oriental Beauty Tea 

The fresh tea leaves of Oriental Beauty Tea has gold color. After refination, the tea looks white in its tips and colorful (red, white, yellow, brown and green) in the appearance. It's also traditionally called "green leaf with red fringe". The tea is composed of one bud and two leaves, which curls up like a flover. The tea has amber color and natural fruity and honey fragrance.
Oriental Beauty Tea must be planted in a leeward and humid environment with sufficient sunlight and without any pollution. In Taiwan there are two main production areas of Oriental Beauty Tea: Hsinchu (Beipu, Emei) and Miaoli (Toufen, Touwu). The tea grown in those places is considered the best in quality and the most famous. 

The best time to produce Oriental Beauty Tea is around Dragon Boat Festival in early June. Fresh tasted by Tea leaves are picked manually in a one-bud-two-leaves way, and eventually refined with traditional skills. 
Oriental Beauty Tea belongs to a partially fermented tea, with stronger degree of fermentation. Compared with other tea varieties, it needs at least three times amount of leaves to produce Oriental Beauty Tea. It's more difficult and limited in quantity to produce this tea than other Oolong Teas. 

Tea Production process 

1. Fresh tea leaves
Tea leaves are picket from tea trees. Usually it needs the thumb and forefinger to pinch back the young stems of tea leaves carefully. Different parts of tea leaves are picked according to different varieties of tea. For example: some pick the terminal bud and the first leaf next to it (one-bud-one-leaf), some pick two leaves (one-bud-two-leaves) and some pick one bud and three leaves.
2. Withering 
Withering can be divided into "sunlight / hot air withering" and "indoor withering".
In the first process, sunlight or hot air is used to evaporate the water from fresh tea leaves and lower the cell activity. In this way, the chemical components, particularly catechin, can be fermented. After the process, the tea leaves must be "stirred" and place indoor for the next withering process. 
Workers have to use their both hands to stir fresh tea leaves, making them chafe one another, Once leaf margin is damaged and exposed to the air, it can facilitate fermentation and evaporation of the water content. Later, the tea leaves must be spread separately for a while before being gathered.
3. Blanching 
This process separates into two kinds: "parching" and "steaming". In Taiwan tho process of parching is mostly used. 
In parching, the high temperature is used to destroy the enzyme activity and stop tea leaves from being continuously fermented. This can keep tea leaves' special fragrance and soften their texture, which is easier to be rolled into a bar shape and then dried.
4. Rolling 
There are also two kinds rolling. The first kind is to put tea leaves into a rolling machine for pressing and rolling. The other kind is to wrap tea leaves in cloth in a ball shape, which is then manually pressed and rolled.  Under force, tea leaves become roll, spherical and hemispherical shapes. During this process, parts of tea leaf tissues are destroyed, which makes them easier for brewing.
5. Separation
After rolling, tea leaves are twisted up with each other because of tea juice, which is not easy for drying. Before the drying process, tea leaves need to be separated. 
6. Drying
Tea leaves are dried in a dryer machine. The high temperature is used to restrain the activity of the remaining enzyme in tea leaves. After dried, the tea is called "crude tea" or "raw tea." It needs further refinement to become a quality tea product. 

The tea ceremony (gongfucha) 

Gongfucha is an important part of Taiwanese culture. It involves the rituals of preparation and presentation of tea. Tea masters study for years to perfect this method. Two things are important for making good tea: chemistry and temperature. 
The water flavor and smell will affect brewed tea. Also the water shouldn't be distilled, lack of minerals will negatively affect the flavor. The temperature of water is important to extract the essential oils of tea. 

The ceremony has few stages including warming cups, wash tea leaves with hot water and brewing tea. Typical Taiwanese family has at least one set of tea ware at home. People also collect teapots as hobby.

Making tea includes items like: 
- brewing vessel, 
- tea pitcher, 
- brewing tray, 
- water kettle, 
- tea towel, 
- spoon, 
- cups, 
- calligraphy style brush with wooden handle, 
- scent cups, 
- tea spoon for measure

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