After the fresh leaves have been plucked , the first main step of the processing is called Shaqing (literally ''kill the green''). It can be performed either by hand, in a big wok, either in a machine called Shaqing Ji.
There are many kinds of Shaqing Ji, they vary in width and length.
A common Sha Qing Ji , Jingmai Mountain
A model from Fujian, usually used for wulong tea, Youle Mountain
Old Sha Qing Ji in the vicinity of Naka
Heavy machinery in a processing unit, Mengsong
In Xishuangbanna, the use of shaqingji is widespread, especially in the Menghai area. Most of the plantation tea is machine processed, it allows the farmers to process much higher quantities with less efforts and in a short time. Our Jingmai tea from natural tea gardens
is processed in a Sha Qing machine.
How does this machine work?
It is quite simple, it consists in a rotative barrel, underneath, a wood fired stove heats it up. The barrel has winglets inside,hence the leaves are transported from one side to the other and are reduced all along.
This is a semi-automatic process: the operator controls the fire intensity and the rotation speed, which means you can choose the intensity and duration of the leaf reduction.
In the most common model, it only requires a few seconds to process the leaves, in a wok, it would require several minutes to process a 5 kg batch.
The camera got hot!
The most crucial parameter to control is the fire. Since the leaf only spends a few seconds in the tunnel, it requires a higher temperature than in a wok, this requires a fine dosage, too much or too few wood would give a poorly processed tea.
A machine processed leaf looks different from a hand processed one. It does not has much influence on the finished product because the aspect of the leaf is mostly determined by the rolling process. Yet, a trained expert can see the difference.
At the end of the Shaqing
For the producer, using a machine is more convenient than hand processing the leaves. It takes less time, less effort and gives more consistent results. On the other hand, a Shaqing Ji is a costly investment, that only the richer families can afford. In many villages, some tea farmers only pick tea and sell the fresh leaves to small processing units, equipped with machines.
The fresh leaves are bought during the day and processed in the evening.
Meanwhile, the hand processed tea is more valued by the customers. It is sometimes said more aromatic, more potent or gives a better feeling. In reality, the relation between quality and processing is more complex than this. A hand process allows a better control on the reduction degree, it is more flexible.
Gong Fu Cha!
Hand processing tea is a bit like using the manual mode of a camera, it can give great results if you have experience. On the other hand, a well preset automatic mode will give more consistent results but might not be the best.