A Tea Thief

I am having my breakfast quietly, Ms. W lowers her voice and said, “We have a thief.” Ms. W is the chef that cook food for the whole factory, yesterday was the first time tea making after new year, about 2000kgs fresh tea leaf, 10 workers.

“Thief?” I am surprised. One night of 15 years ago, we three people drove to Anxi tea mountains for purchasing Tieguanyin, we put an iron bat in the car as we ever heard many mysterious robbery stories. But today in 2024? Any people, male female, old or child can freely walk anywhere without concerns no matter day or night, so a thief? That’s a shocking news.

“My pork is missing, more precisely the lean part.”

“Maybe someone cooked it last night.”

“But I just offered you all an extra meal last night at 10pm.”

What happened last night?

Last night could be a disaster.

The old workers didn’t like the new assistant.

All tea processing work might stop and abandoned.

The complain all comes from one word that the assistant said, “We should get 1000kgs more fresh leaf.”

The assistant just join the factory for no more than two months and other workers have been here for over 5 years. The assistant and the cooker are husband and wife, they live in the factory.

“How could your husband ask for one more thousand leaf? We are both just employees that should stand in the same team.” The old workers complain to his wife.

But jobs are still need to be done even when the assistant is not welcomed.

Comparing to the weather, human politics is nothing.

The lighting raining begins from the afternoon of April 4, the in-house humidity is 99% but luckily the floor is still dry which means the humidity is much better than outside.

So what’s the matter?

What’s this have to do with tea? There is a little background about tea making, the craft or tea processing steps you may already know however, I wanna tell you the key of tea making is not these steps, is how and why tea transforms.

Playing with moisture is one of the keys.

Moisture or water content inside fresh leaf is something like a matchmaker.

The tea processing has several stages and different stage needs different rate of water hence be able to let different matter talk and transform.

OWOO, you might see the point, the rate of water needs to change at different stage.

Then how?

Or how to remove extra part of moisture?

Three factors:

  1. Temperature
  2. Humidity
  3. Speed of airflow

Humidity is the most important factor. Normally you cannot Rolling the tea until the moisture content is blow 1/2. So 2000kg fresh leaves = 1000kg water needs to remove, the air conditioner cannot do this heavy job.

Tea Juicing

So what can we do? We look around and the shiny new Oolong Shaping machine got our eyes, it reminds me several hundred years ago in Song dynasty how our ancestors made the tea for the emperor, they squeezed juice from tea leaf.

“Yes we can do it.”

As good fermenting requires right rate of water, otherwise it would be like throwing a drop of ink into the ocean, nothing change, only water remains.

So Oolong Shaping machine becomes black tea juicer.

Bitterness and Astringency are removed.

Actually Withering is a continuous job, not just this Juicing.

April 3rd

April 2 morning is foggy, before that we already have raining for one week.

To all farmers sun is the God.

Without sun, there is impossible to make good tea.

Luckily April 2 afternoon we got the sun, as well as whole next day.

So April 3 is a happy day, just one day before the Qing Ming Festival.

I woke up at 6am, still quite chilly, coat is a must have. The factory is surrounded by a big springs, in front of the factory, Ms. W plants many vegetables, just one month and they grow so well. A small river is singing all day, we can see it has a tiny but nice pitfall.

Luckily at around 10 we got lovely sun.

We chose to let the sun dry the mountains a little bit and began to pick tea at around 12.

In front of the factory is a big drying field, all picked leaves are welcomed here to enjoy sunbathing, the Sun Withering is harder than common as we know the next day might not be good.

China tea secret is hidden in the sun.

Oolong craft for black tea

Oolong tea could get you fruit flavor that other teas can’t, so we decid to apply this technique, the key craft of Oolong, Shaking.

A long and big bamboo basket that contains over 50kg tea, once power on, it will go round and round like tumbling, the teas inside will collide to each other and break the surface thus have more chance to interact with the air, more intense.

Two times Shaking applied and also harder than usual, the 2nd Shaking normally is just 10-15 minutes and this time it takes 30 minutes. As Shaking can help remove moisture from leaf quicker and harder.

But if it’s tortured too much, it would die.

Minor torment is training, major torment is hell.

Also all lights are put on to help warm the air.

Truth of the theft case

A friend ever tole me a story, about 20 years ago they decided to invent in his hometown, to build a big factory and tea farms. One day they found a big bag of tea was missing, it’s about 50kg. They reported it to the authorities, later the police found the tea was stolen by a local farmer.

Guess how this case was ended? “Just let it go.” The police said, “We are all neighbors.” The thief was warned. The friend hardened the security but more importantly enhance the influence as time goes on, after that no more such things happened ever.

In the faraway countryside village, everything is not 100% controlled by law, sometimes a smile is more important.

But who would steal a piece of pork in a tea factory?

April 5th

The whole mountains including the factory is surrounded by heavy fogs, at about 10am everyone shows out. The tea making is finished, everyone is invited to try the tea.

Tea cups are cleaned and warmed, everyone is sitting around the tea table. After first cup, everyone is satisfied with the final taste, we thank each one. The assistant’s wife mentioned the missing pork, one replied it’s cooked by them, as they work quite late until 3am. They also bring the complains on the table, drink and talk face to face.

Everything ends with a cup of nice tea.

It’s a very big challenging tea season however the thousand years wisdom won’t say no.

When you are drinking this tea thousand miles away, the vegetables in front of factory should be ready to pick, everyone everything is connected with the nature.