The Plucking & Zuo Qing Phase of Wulong Production
This video was taken during a visit to Rock Wulong tea gardens. During the first part of the video, Zhuping is speaking with a tea picker who describes to her how the tea is picked and how the bushes are distinguished. The second portion of the video is an interview that Mr. Liu gives describing the processing steps involved for producing the tea that was taken in his rock wulong tea factory. Mr. Liu supervises the production of most of the rock wulong that we carry.
Typically, the picking time for rock wulong starts at the end of April although pickings will vary by wulong. Eight Immortals and Shui Xian both get picked around this time. The earmark for such time is technically referred to as Guyu; Guyu is the sixth solar term of the East Asian agricultural calendar. Wulong such as Qi Dan and Bai Ji Guan will typically get picked a little later around early May. Que She (Sparrow’s Tongue) get picked the latest and this usually occurs around May 10th.
The tea garden shown in the video is that of Rou Gui. Rou Gui has a picking standard of zhong kai mian where the youngest leaf is ½-⅔ the size of the second leaf (We have a page devoted entirely to wulong tea harvest and picking standards if you need more details.). At this point, the tea is picked around 9 AM to 4 PM.
There is a popular phrase that gets uttered often in the tea community, “zou cha kan cha”. It is understood by tea producers how much of an impact the weather can have on tea. This is so much so the case that some producers do not process the tea at all on rainy days.
When the tea first arrives at the location where it is processed, it is left to wither under the sun for approximately 30 minutes to remove some of the moisture from the leaves. This is what is known as shai qing, which means “under sunshine”. During the interview with Mr. Liu, you will notice that the leaves are heaped together behind him. The leaves have been retrieved from their withering and this marks the process known as zuo qing, which is the focus of the second portion of the video. Zuo qing, which means “set the green”, usually takes about eight to fifteen hours depending on the weather. This stage consists of two phases known as zuo shui where water is removed from the leaves, and yao qing or “shake the leaves”.
Both zuo shui and yao qing can be done either by hand or by rolling machine. A tea which is entirely hand crafted from start to finish requires a great deal of skill. Take the training for yao qing for example. This is a single processing step involved in the making of nearly every tea. The training for this alone lasts about two to three years, and even by such a point, the trainee is far from considered a master. If the entire process of zuo qing is done by machine, it can shorten the processing time to six hours.
The leaves are set on bamboo trays and placed on shelves, and yao qing is performed every 30 to 40 minutes for about a minute. After each shake, they are placed back on the bamboo trays. This is done repeatedly throughout the entire eight to fifteen hours.
Shaqing, a phase also known as “kill the greeen”, is usually done through submitting the leaves to high heat (around 210 degrees celsius or 410 degrees fahrenheit) in a hot rolling machine for about 7-10 minutes. Then the leaves, either by hand or by a rolling machine, are twisted into shape. Finally, they are oven dried for about 45 minutes at about 100 degrees celsius. This marks the point at which the mao cha is finished and is regarded as the first step!
Mr. Liu notes during the interview that when the mao cha undergoes roasting and shaping later, they will typically lose the most mature and youngest leaf. The reason is that the largest leaf is too big to hold a shape and the youngest leaf becomes too crispy from the heat and ends up as farthings. The older leaf gets picked because it is attached to the sprig.