First flush black tea, also known as "spring tea" or "first picking tea," is a premium tea harvested from the first flush black tea or first growth of new tea leaves in the spring. This type of tea is highly sought after by tea connoisseurs due to its unique flavor and aroma, as well as its limited availability. However, the harvesting of first flush black tea is a delicate and skilled process that requires careful timing and precision to produce a high-quality tea. Here are five factors related to the art of making first flush black tea:
Timing and Weather
The harvesting of first flush black tea is highly dependent on timing and weather conditions. In general, first flush black tea is harvested in the early spring, when the new tea shoots begin to emerge after the winter dormancy period. The exact timing of the harvest can vary depending on the location and climate, but it typically falls between late March and early May in most tea-growing regions. The weather conditions during this period are also crucial, as a dry and sunny spell can accelerate the growth of new leaves, resulting in a larger yield of high-quality tea.
Plucking the Leaves
The plucking of tea leaves is a labor-intensive process that requires skilled workers to pick the young, tender leaves by hand. The workers must carefully select the new tea shoots, which are often still covered in a fine layer of hair, to ensure that only the youngest and most delicate leaves are harvested. In some regions, small machines are used to pluck the leaves, but hand plucking is still the preferred method for many tea farmers.
Sorting and Processing
After the tea leaves have been harvested, they must be sorted and processed quickly to prevent any deterioration in quality. The leaves are typically spread out on large trays or baskets, where they are sorted by size and quality. The leaves are then transported to the processing facility, where they are withered, rolled, and dried using specialized machinery. The withering process involves spreading the tea leaves out on large racks or trays, where they are exposed to warm air and moisture for several hours. This helps to soften the leaves and remove any excess moisture, making them more pliable for rolling.
Rolling and Oxidation
After the withering process, the tea leaves are rolled using specialized machinery, which helps to break down the cell walls and release the essential oils and flavors of the tea. The rolling process also helps to shape the leaves and remove any remaining moisture. After rolling, the tea leaves are left to oxidize for a short period of time, which gives them their unique flavor and aroma. This process is carefully monitored to ensure that the leaves are not over-oxidized, which can result in a bitter and unpleasant taste.
Final Drying and Packaging
After the oxidation process, the tea leaves are dried once again using specialized machinery, which helps to remove any remaining moisture and lock in the flavors and aromas of the tea. The tea leaves are then sorted by size and quality, and packaged for shipment to tea buyers and wholesalers around the world. The final product is a high-quality tea that is prized by tea connoisseurs for its unique flavor and aroma.
In conclusion, the harvesting of first flush black tea is a delicate and skilled process that requires careful timing, skilled labor, and specialized machinery to produce a high-quality tea. The process involves plucking the young, tender leaves by hand, sorting and processing them quickly, and carefully monitoring the oxidation and drying processes to ensure a high-quality final product.