Inaugural Organic Harvest: Oolong Tea Roasting Process - Part One
When properly done, the newly harvested tea leaves are allowed to "sit and stabilize" for at least a few days after their initial processing on the day of the harvest. In this interim, the remaining minuscule amount of moisture in the leaf stem gets redistributed. For greener high mountain tea, aka "gaoshancha", the less oxidized leaves undergo a singular post processing roast in order to deplete all remaining moisture from the leaf.
Here, Andy and Mr. Lin carry out the first bag of tea for the initial roasting, several days after harvest:
For more traditional oolongs, the more heavily oxidized leaves are roasted repeatedly, which not only removes all water content, but also "toasts" the leaf to varying degrees, transforming the flavor and consistency of the brewed tea. This is a significant factor in the making of a traditional artisan oolong tea.
Mrs. Lin and Andy examine and talk about de-stemming the leaves after the first roast, as Mr. Lin fills the trays to be put in the oven. About 35 pounds of tea distributed on ten screen trays will be roasted for about 6 hours at approximately 100 degrees celcius for the initial roast.
And the first batch of leaves are in the oven! Thus begins the long slow roasting process that will be carefully attended to toward the end of each roasting to determine when a particular roasting session is "done". Then the leaves are let to cool, removed from the oven and stored again for several days to restabilize for the consequent roast - until the desired result is achieved. More updates to come on the roasting process and tasting of the leaves as they undergo their final curing process!
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The medium oxidized leaves have undergone extensive, repeated roastings that have resulted in a very balanced, integrated character. The initial steepings offer a freshly cut wood aroma with a toasted nutty flavor. This proceeds to open up into a sweeter, more complex profile that is strikingly reminiscent of roasted winter vegetables, including parsnip, caramelized onion and butternut squash.
Mr. Zhang's father cultivated tea on their homesteaded land in Xiaobantian, on the southside of Lugu Township, where he grew up in the midst of traditional tea making. At 20 something, he decided to embody his local tradition by clearing land to cultivate his own plot of tea. For the last 20 years, he has managed his own humble, privately owned plot of tea. Throughout this period, he also acquired seasonal work in tea factories in Lugu, Shanlinxi, Alishan, Fanzaitian, and Lishan. In a word, he learned the ropes of tea making in a comprehensive way, like most tea farmers of his generation. Lugu hosts the highest concentration of tea makers in Taiwan, and is a hub of specialty tea making culture.