Miyun is our classic Jingmai tea cake. This year, we took particular care in selecting fresh tea leaves from specific natural tea gardens on Jingmai Mountain. “Forested, high altitude, low-density plantation and high biodiversity” were among our criteria for sourcing suitable raw material. On top of this careful selection, we fried each batch by hand, in the woks of our tea factory, instead of using kill-green machines which accelerate significantly the processing, but allow less control over tea quality. This year, we’re happy to say that these extra efforts paid off.
Our Miyun has superior complexity and depth than what we made in the previous years. It is a high-powered, vivid and crunchy tea that bites your mouth with its fragrance, and then appeases you while gently flowing down your throat. The lingering freshness can be felt long after you left the tea table.
Miyun is a dynamic introduction to what Jingmai Mountain can offer, and you will certainly want more of it.
More on Pu-erh tea processing:
In our Jingmai tea factory we use traditional methods to make Pu-erh tea. It comes with four steps: withering-wok-frying-rolling-sun-drying
After picking, the leaves are spread on bamboo mats for a couple of hours. The purpose of withering is to make the leaves easier to cook during the next step. When picked, the leaves are turgescent; they are swollen with water, and their surface is somewhat rough. After a couple of hours, they will soften and become more flexible. Withering also has a limited impact on the redness of tea: a long withering time will have more fruity aromas and will deliver a redder tea soup. Withering time should last between four and six hours. We collect the fresh tea leaves from the picker during their lunch break and when they come back. In the evening, we process the leaves collected at noon first, the leaves gathered in the late afternoon are processed later in the evening. Some farmers let the fresh leaves wither for a whole night and process them in the morning.
The tea leaves are then fried in a wok. Nowadays, most of the tea factories in Jingmai use a machine, but we believe we still get better results by frying them in a wok, it offers more control but requires more mastery; this is somewhat like the manual and automatic mode of your camera.
Why do we fry the tea leaves?
This step is called Sha Qing, often translated as "kill-green" process. The purpose of heating the leaves is to destroy most of the enzymes present naturally in the tea leaves. These enzymes are responsible for oxidation. If we don't neutralize them, the tea is going to turn red.This process is used in Pu-erh tea, green tea, and oolong tea making. This is the most important step in Pu-erh tea processing. Unlike green tea, the pu-erh tea kill-green process is incomplete, not all of the enzymes are neutralized, this is why Pu-erh tea can age while green tea deteriorates, this is the main difference between the two tea families.
In order to stop most but not all of the enzyme activity, the wok temperature must not be too high. This operation takes more time when making Pu-erh tea than when making green tea. In our factory, a typical kill-green session takes between 15 and 20 minutes per batch. Some other tea makers prefer to use a longer time: up to 40 minutes!
We like to use shorter times and heavier temperature, this gives flowery Pu-erh teas and it seems to enhance the mouthfeel too. Still, it is important not to overheat the leaves; that would lead to poorly aging Pu-erh teas. This year, we decided to make this tea on the greener side, yet without crossing the limits. Playing with fire again...
In our tea factory, we control temperature by using our senses: by feeling the heat through our gloves, by listening to the crackling of the frying leaves on the hot wok. Traditional tea processing puts your senses to the test, you have to look, listen, smell and touch the leaves to evaluate them.
How it's done
We could distinguish three steps during a frying session. First, when put into the wok, the fresh leaves are bulky, and their surface is dry, that's when you have to move them around quite fast, a second of inattention would lead to many leaves burning. During this first step, the leaves are gradually shrinking, their water content is released on the surface, which gives them a moist touch.
Secondly, the goal is to help the released water evaporate by moving the leaves around. This step is less stressful for the tea maker because the leaves are much less at risk of burning than during the beginning of the kill-green process. Here, the goal is to let the water evaporate while heating the leaves. One technique is to make a ball out of your batch and turn it slowly to let it heat up. Once every five to ten seconds, the leaves are opened up to let the water evaporate. This is our technique, but each tea maker has his own style.
The final step is what generally makes the difference between an average and a great batch, just like the last minute when cooking spaghettis. We lower the wok temperature by taking a log out of the stove and gently turn the leaves in the slowly cooling wok. Managing the wok heat at this point will determine another characteristic of our Pu-erh tea. As the leaves are cooking, they turn more and more yellow. This brings in different fragrances and sweetens the tea. If the tea cooks for too long, its flavors might end up being losing its scent and have what we call a "stuffy taste". Letting the leaves cook a little bit can enhance the flavor, it all comes down to the style you want to give you Pu-erh tea. This year, we preferred not to push too much on this side and keep our Pu-erh tea on the green side.
At the end of the kill-green session, the tea leaves are again at risk of being burned. As their water content decrease, they can heat up too much and get slightly roasted. This profile can be made voluntarily in some Pu-erh teas, again, it's a style that some tea drinkers might like, but overcooking Pu-erh tea inevitably compromises its ability to age.
After the leaves have been fried, they are taken out of the wok into a bamboo basket. At this point it's important to let the leaves cool down quickly; otherwise, it might lead to a muddy tea soup. Since the leaves are still very hot, moving them around helps the water evaporate. The leaves shouldn't be too moist for the next step.
Rolling is crucial in crafting the pungency of Pu-erh tea. As a reminder, polyphenols make the taste and mouthfeel of tea. By frying the leaves, we just destroyed the enzymes that would oxidize polyphenols. Now, it's time to extract those fine molecules from the leaf cells so that they can please your nose when you are brewing tea. We do that by rolling the tea in a dedicated machine. The pressure applied on the leaves must be controlled. Too much pressure will lead to crushed leaves with an unappealing aspect and a very astringent brew. Not enough pressure would make the tea too bland, especially in the first infusions. Rolling takes about ten minutes.
Finally, the tea leaves are spread on bamboo mats, and we can call it a night. In the early morning, we take them to our drying area: large surfaces preferably covered by a roof to save our production from an unexpected rain. The leaves must be spread thinly and will dry out in a couple of hours. The drying area is often the limiting factor for the daily output of a tea factory. What's the point in having a large tea factory with fancy machines if you don't have enough room to dry tea?
Currently, our tea factory can make a maximum of 20kg of dry Pu-erh tea per day. Wok frying takes much more time than machine frying, but we think it's worth it, the result is in the cup.