I had totally forgotten why I haven't been huffing it to the factories the last few years. I always thought that I am getting old and soft and surly. It was easier to have the factory bring all the samples to be cupped to my hotel or my office and I would cup the samples and give instructions then re-cup the next day.
Well yesterday, I got excited by a sample at Mr. Shao Hui's office, so I left the hotel at 7 am and got to the factory at 9, ready to give em hell. I started the day cupping all of last night's production. I have to say that I was so disappointed I was ready to walk off!
|Fresh Leaves - Withering on Bamboo Mats|
But fresh picked leaves started to arrive and the factory start to hum into action. I started looking over everyone's shoulder and I’m sure I was being a general pest and thorn in everyone's side. After all, who needs someone from far away telling you what to do? I am sure they've got moms and dads and may be a wife or two that does a good job at home!
Anyway, lunchtime came along rather quickly and the factory bosses and their entourage invited me to lunch and off we went. Memories of one of the few things I no longer enjoy came rushing back. It was the damn drinking and smoking! Being a resident of California where smoking is almost a sin against God himself, so I've been pampered for the last few years. I've forgotten how annoying it is to be the only non-smoker surrounded by a group of chimneys! I was glad that lunch was done eventually.
By the time we returned to the factory, the fresh leaves that arrived in the morning were now being oxidized in the "fermenting trough". This is a concrete trough with controlled, warmed air to accelerate the oxidation process. Since there's not much I could do during this phase of the process, we went to look at other factories to see what they had to offer.
We sped through four different factories in the Keemun County and there just not very many teas offered that interested me. The new so-called "market demands" are driving black tea to be harvested earlier so that more tippy leaves can be produced. Since Chinese consumers are new black tea drinkers, their expectation is different than a western consumer who is much more familiar with the typical style of black tea that produce a deep red liquor with less regard for leaf appearance.
The Chinese consumer today wants a good-looking leaf that produces lighter and more golden color liquor with more a floral note but requires lighter oxidation to achieve. They are willing to pay top dollar. The drawback is that lower oxidization can produce a green grassy-like astringency that I despise. The raw bitterness lingers way too long and destroys any hope of smooth texture and mouth-feel. I decided to get back to the factory to see what's up.
|Fermentation Chamber In Operation|
While we were away, the production continued. The next step is the "fermentation chamber" where the tea is loaded on bamboo trays and the chamber is kept at 25 to 28 degrees C with 90 percent humidity (Sorry, no pictures since I would like to keep my camera working a bit longer).
Once that is done the tea is then hand rolled and shaped in a wok heated with charcoal fire. Then it is dried and sorted.
It is now 11:30 pm at night and I have just gotten back from the factory. I am very encouraged by some of the production from today. I left final instructions for the workers to finish up so I can come in to re-cup tomorrow morning, if all goes according to plan, I will be sending some home, remember, we want floral notes but we also want a smooth cup with that typical honey sweet tone, if I am successful tomorrow, I'll let you be the judge to see if I have done it.
I know now why I kind of quietly moved away from working at the factory level. Some of it is certainly because I appreciate other peoples' hard work and really don't want to make it more difficult by being a constant pain in the ass. I'll also admit that I'm no longer 35 so I'm getting a bit soft! But seriously, it ain't the hard work or the long hours, it's those nine other nut jobs that wants to smoke a pack of cigarette each over a great meal while drinking gut rotting liquor with the windows closed!
I guess if it’s all easy everyone would be doing it right?
I LOVE MY JOB!