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Spreading or withering tea leaves? (It depends on the tea type)

Spreading or withering tea leaves

In order for freshly picked tea leaves to be further processed, they need to be dried of most of the water they contain. This allows the next processing steps to be correctly executed. It is also, in itself, the first transformation step of the leaves. The way this drying is being implemented (by spreading or by withering), already partly determines which type of tea the leaves will become.

Spreading or withering the freshly picked tea leaves: why?

  • Spreading the leaves on a plane surface will avoid that they get lumped together during the kill-green processing step, while keeping all their original freshness.
  • A well executed withering , on the other hand, will tenderize the leaves and influence their fragrance and taste.

Spreading or withering the freshly picked tea leaves: a question of time.

The difference between “spreading” (摊凉) and “withering” (萎凋) is a fine one. Yet it impacts the way the tea leaves are transformed during this processing step.

  • Actually, in the case of spreading, the whole point is to not let the oxydation transformation begin. The leaves are just spread out long enough to loose part of the water they contain.
  • In the case of withering, on the contrary, the goal is to soften the tea leaves during a more or less prolonged period of oxydation.

A fork on the road to the final product

The choice between these two methods creates a fork on the “road” to the final product:

  • Leaves processed according to the spreading method will either become green tea, yellow tea, or dark tea (including Pu’er Tea).
  • Leaves produced according to the withering method will either become white tea, wulong tea, or red tea.

It is up to the experience and expertise of the artisan to decide on the duration of this processing step, as their is no absolute time rule for identifying, when oxidation begins. This may depend on the humidity in the air, the size of the leaves, etc.

The picture above shows drying tea leaves freslhly picked on tea trees in southern Yunnan. They will become Pu’er Tea.

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