Francis Zee
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 similar to 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 it is quite drinkable. 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 during a rainy period. I worked with about one pound of fresh leaves at a time.

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 about 6 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 insipid.


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 flowery. 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.