Son-in-Law, Tea Farmer, considering his freshly made tea
At the Alishan tea farm, the Son-in-Law (that's what we called him) has stepped into the role of primary tea farmer. He's tall, handsome and kind. He has a sense of calm presence beyond his age (38). He was our guide through the tea making process.
The tea farmer works closely with the experts at the processing factory. The tea waits for no one. It's round-the-clock work once the tea is picked. To make Alishan tea, it takes two days and one night. Processing is done in small batches; in our case it was specific to a day's picking. Each day of picking has a different shining quality (aroma, broth, mouth feel, etc.) and therefore should be processed specifically to bring out its best features.
Process for making tea, shown to us by the owner of the facility
The process for making Alishan tea:
1 - Tea picking
2 - Outdoor oxidation
3 - Indoor oxidation
4 - Stirring green
5 - Killing green
6 - Shaping
7 - Drying
8 - Fixing the product
Tea that is oxidizing, a very crucial part of the process that turns the raw leaf into magic
This tea processing facility is ISO certified at 4 stars. (ISO is an international quality standards body and I know from work experience how big of a deal this is.) It seems as though only 5 Taiwan tea processing factories have 5 stars.
It takes 3 - 5 years for a talented person to become good at this tea making work. It requires sensitivity to many factors including: temperature and humidity, tea varietal and season, preferences of the tea maker, and of course the leaf itself. Listening to the leaf is done in many ways, and a lot of it is done through the nose. The tea makers use the tea aroma as an indication of when it's time for the next step.
For a tea geek like me, it's really exciting to have been there, in the quite literal middle of all of this. The aromas of the withering teas, the hard work, the rhythms of it all. Such anticipation for the first taste (see top photo).
Here's a video of "stirring green" which helps the "water travel" in the tea. It's awesome to watch these guys do their thing. (And you can go here for some pics of "killing the green.")