While we were in Yunnan province investigating Pu Erh production and visiting the Yunnan green tea factories, we had the pleasure of visiting various other nearby factories. These produce various other artisan teas and although we currently don't stock all these teas, it was interesting to see different aspects of tea production.
On our second day in Yunnan, we visited two different factories. The first factory was mainly producing artisan black tea and the second producing pressed brick tea.
The first factory we visited produced several types of tea including Golden Snow, Yunnan Pi Lo Chun and Golden Pagoda. Our supplier Mr Zhou, only buys artisan black teas from here however, the other teas were also being processed during our visit.
When we first arrived at the factory, as is customary, we were invited taste teas with the factory owners before beginning our tour of the main processing area. The tea we tasted was called Golden Snow, which is a very high grade black tea consisting of one leaf and one bud. Golden Snow tea is rolled into ball shapes using a large wok-like machine. This is the same kind of machine that is used to make Pinhead Gunpowder. After the tea is rolled and dried, dust is removed from the tea using a special machine that is turned by hand.
Like the factory we visited the day before, which was processing Yunnan Green Tea, there were two large troughs with freshly picked green tea spread out in them.
The difference this time was that the tea was being allowed to oxidise and ferment making it black. Black tea is made by allowing the green tea leaves to react with the air after picking. Chemicals that naturally occur in the leaves start a fermentation process turning the leaves a dark brown colour. The black tea is used to make Golden Snow and Golden Pagoda, an artisan tea that is hand tied to resemble a bamboo shoot
This factory also produces green tea and today the factory was processing a batch of Yunnan Pi lo Chun, a tea which is traditionally made in Jiangsu province but made here too.
During some tea production and particularly after drying, the tea can contain lots of dust particles. In some factories, dust is removed using an automatic machine but in this factory the dust was removed using a hand operated machine.
All of the heat required for steaming and drying of tea at his factory is produced from burning wood - this is very common in smaller tea factories. Larger more industrial tea factories may use other sources of heat, the hot air is blown from the furnace in the to drying and steaming machines.
The second factory we visited was an artisan tea brick factory. Here they make all different shapes of tea bricks out of the loose leaf tea and sometimes with added flowers.
The tea that is used is a medium grade tea. Most of the bricks that are made here are for novelty value - one of the most common uses is for display and scenting a room like pot pouri. Our tea suppliers had bricks with their company logo made to celebrate 10 years in business. Some of the tea bricks are very elaborate with computerised 3D designs being used to make tea statues.
The tea leaves are steamed to make them supple before being placed into moulds. The tea is then pressed hard in to the moulds using a special machine. While we were visiting, the factory was producing valentines hearts with green tea and carnation flowers.