Tea time loses its popularity

Updated: 2013-04-04 07:43

By Wu Yiyao (China Daily)

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Tea time loses its popularity

Tea roasting technicians use their traditional way to roast Wujiatai Gongcha, in Wujiatai village, Xuan'en county, Hubei province. The tea was once a famous tribute to the imperial court during the Qing Dynasty. The art of roasting the tea has been listed as a provincial-level intangible culture heritage in Hubei. Song Wen / Xinhua

Today, local tea pickers are rare in Meijiawu. Most of the tea pickers that were from the area have now retired, and the younger generation can afford to hire pickers from poorer areas.

Longjing tea leaves are roasted soon after picking to stop the action of the natural enzymes. This is a vital process that brings out the fragrance and flavor of the tea. It requires skill and experience to bring out the best in the tea, as the art of tea roasting is the manipulation of time and temperature. The tea leaves are baked in large metal woks, which can be up to a meter in diameter, and the roasters have to be sensitive to the heat and press the fresh tea leaves against the bottom of the wok to make the water evaporate. Too much heat may damage the delicate leaves.

"A working day for a tea roasting technician may last 20 hours, from six in the morning to two in the morning next day," said Mei Chongliang. This is because the roasting can't be paused, or the fragrance of the tea is los.

Unlike previous years when the roasted tea was packed in fine china jars resting in silver-lined wooden cases, the tea this year comes in glass jars or moisture-proof cans. If buyers want extra, the sellers will give them a paper bag.

The hostels and hotels around Meijiawu village also have stores selling mingqian tea in 25-gram tins or 50-gram cans.

However, for Tao Enqian, a tea buyer from Shanghai, the drop in prices is good news as it means the good teas will be more affordable and not just reserved for officials and the wealthy.

"This year no one is snatching the good things from my hands," said Tao, who bought 3 kilograms of the Meijiawu Longjing tea this year to give to his family.

Tea enterprises are also preparing to lower the proportion of high-end tea and enhance sales of excellent middle-market tea, said Luo Liewan, who is in charge of the tea sector with the Zhejiang provincial department of agriculture.

"It is good for consumers and market players to see more affordable tea products. After all, tea is a day-to-day consumed beverage," said Luo.

Contact the writer at wuyiyao@chinadaily.com.cn.