USDA/ARS, National Clonal Germplasm Repository Hilo, Hawaii
All tea comes from the same plant source, Camellia sinensis. It is
the processing, involving different degrees of withering,
'Fermentation", heat processing and drying that produces different
types of tea The fermentation process in tea making is not a
microbe-induced fermentation as in wine making, but oxidation and
enzyme reactions of chemicals within the tea leaves caused by the
wilting and physical bruising of the leaves. These chemical
reactions are stopped by steaming or heating the tea leaves at
different "fermentation" stages to achieve the characteristics and
fragrance of different tea types.
The Japanese green teas and the Chinese green tea such as Lung Ching
or Dragon Well are classified as "non-fermented tea" These freshly
harvested leaves are steamed and dried immediately and are the least
processed of all teas.
A range of Chinese teas are classified under the
"partially-fermented tea" group, these include the Paochong and
Oolong teas and are 8-18% oxidized prior to steaming or pan-frying;
the Teh-Kuang-Yum or lron goddess tea is 15-30% oxidized and the
Formosa Oolong is 50-60 % oxidized.
The familiar black or red tea is classified as 'fully-fermented tea"
Traditional beliefs are that only tea grown at high elevations and
from selected lines can produce good quality tea Lowland teas are
said to be inferior, bitter and insipid.
I am not a connoisseur of fine tea and have had no formal training
in the subject. What started me going was a long row of tea
seedlings at the Waiakea Agricultural Experiment Station, University
of Hawaii, elevation 600 ft (200 m). It was there when I was a
freshman at Hilo college some 25 years ago, and it is still growing
vigorously with minimal care. No one is interested in it because all
believe that it makes lousy tea. Most people who tried it just dried
the leaves and drank the infusion. . . Yuck.
I am very fortunate to have friends in Taiwan, who were helpful in
getting me publications from the Taiwan Tea Experiment Station. The
processing procedures used by the industry are quite involved and
require equipment for cooking, rolling and drying the tea, which I
do not have. However, I read and extrapolated the essence of the
processing steps, and was able to develop a very simple method using
common household facilities, to make small batches of tea
the "Paochong Oolong." I compared my "local" tea with the
semi-expensive "Oolong" and "Paochong" tea that I brought back from
Taiwan, and the "Hilo" brew is not bad at all, in fact I think
I would like to share my simple way of making the
"partially-fermented tea" with you. Hopefully it will generate more
interest in the study of growing and processing tea in Hawaii.
It takes about four to five pounds of fresh leaves to produce a
single pound of tea. More leaves are needed when harvested
rainy period. I worked with about one pound of fresh leaves at a
1. Tea leaves are harvested two to three days after the first leaf
closest to the tip is fully expanded. The best quality picking
includes a single shoot tip and a leaf, but one shoot with two or
three leaves is acceptable, as long as the lowest leaves and stems
are still soft and fleshy. The older the leaves, the lower the
quality. The harvested leaves and shoots, referred to as greens,
should not be stuffed into a bag to avoid unnecessary bruising
2. The greens are spread flat on a screen, about one inch deep, and
sun wilted for about 30 - 40 minutes until the leaf surface of the
first leaf is wrinkled and has lost its luster. Lightly tossing the
leaves once or twice is necessary during sun wilting to ensure even
drying. About 8-12% weight loss is listed in the literature, but my
batches lost 16 to 20% moisture and were okay.
As you know, sunny days are hard to come by in Hilo, so my back-up
wilting process involves a wooden box housing a household
dehumidifier. At a setting of 7 or 8, the desirable wilting was
achieved within an hour and a half on a rainy day. Tossing the
greens three to four times ensures even wilting.
3. The wilted greens are moved indoors, tossed, turned lightly and
left standing for an hour or two at room temperature. At the end of
this period, the greens begin to develop a very faint flowery
fragrance replacing the grassy odor of the raw greens.
4. The greens are tossed and turned again, with a light rubbing
using a handful of leaves at a time. They are then hilled to
inches to rest for one to two hours. This promotes further oxidation
and enzyme activities within the greens.
5. Repeat step 4 until the leaves are evenly wilted, dull green in
color with a visible reddish edging of the leave margins. The
fragrance should be sweet and full with no grassy odor. It is time
to stop the enzyme activities by heating.
6. The literature suggests pan frying at 160-180* C until the leaves
are soft and develop a strong tea fragrance. The following is my
microwave process: Place wilted greens onto a cotton cloth, fold to
cover. Place in the microwave at highest* setting for 30 seconds.
Remove and open cloth to let steam escape, toss greens. Repeat five
times. The greens should be somewhat dry to touch.
7. After tossing and airing, bundle the leaves in the cloth with a
gentle rolling and squeezing motion. This promotes oozing and
intermixing of the sap and the leaf surfaces. After about one minute
of rolling, open the cloth and separate individual shoots from the
leaf ball. The greens should look shiny and a little sticky.
8. Reheat the greens for 20 seconds, air and repeat step 7 three
times. The leaves should develop a pleasant tea fragrance. Be
gentle, so the leaves remain whole and not broken into pieces.
9. Reheat 20 seconds, break up clumps for steam to escape. Press
down or squeeze the leaf mass, then break up the leaf ball before
reheating. Repeat the process 10 to 15 times to reduce leaf mass.
The final product should be dry to the touch and dark green, almost
black in color.
10. Place semi-dried leaves into a dehumidifier box or an air-
circulating food dryer to dry overnight.
11. Put dried tea on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil. Preheat oven
to 300* F. Turn off heat and bake tea for 5-10 minutes, the baked
tea should have a sweet tea fragrance.
12. Remove from oven and cool. Keep in self-sealing plastic bag,
cover bag with aluminum foil. Keep tea in cool, dry and dark place.
13. Keep the finished product in an air-tight container for 34 days
to mellow. The fresh new tea without mellowing may be slightly more
HOW TO BREW AND SERVE TEA
The best leaves to water ratio for normal brewing is 1:50. Place 3
grams of dried leaves into a covered tea pot, pour in 150 ml of
boiling water. Use water as it begins to boil. Brew tea for 5
minutes before decanting completely into a serving container. This
ensures even concentration of flavor when served. Never let tea
leaves sit in water, as it may develop into a strong, insipid and
bitter brew. The same leaves can be brewed five to six times, adding
an extra minute for each following infusion. The first brew is the
best in fragrance and the second brew is the best in flavor.
The infusion should be bright, clear and shiny, greenish-yellow to
honey colored. The fragrance should be mild, rich and slightly
The taste should be full. without bitterness or strong insipidness,
and it should have a slightly sweet taste with a lingering
after-note of sweetness and flowery fragrance coating the back of
your mouth and throat.
Now, for "Espresso' and strong tea lovers, try this “Kung Fu” tea
brewing. Fill half or a third of a six to eight ounce clay tea pot
with tea leaves. Add boiling water and brew for 60 seconds, decant
into a serving container before serving. Use small tea cups or
'Sake' cups. The infusion is intense in flavor and slightly insipid,
but the coating, fragrance and after-note is strong and pleasant.
Add 15-20 seconds to each following brew.
So this is it. I appreciate my 'Hilo' tea better than cookies, since
it doesn't have calories and is pesticide free. Try and have fun
with it. Also please let me know how your brews turns out.