Heavy Roast Wuyi Oolong Tea | Eco-Cha Tea Club

December 13, 2020

Wuyi Oolong tea farm Nantou Taiwan
This is the plot of tea from which this month's Batch 61 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club was harvested in spring 2020. We stopped by today to get an updated photo and show how this plot of tea has grown into its own. Below is the photo we took when we first shared a batch that was harvested from this (then) newly planted plot of of the heirloom strain of Wuyi Oolong. That was Batch 4 of the Eco-Cha Tea Club!

Eco-Cha checking out the newly planted plot of Wuyi Oolong 2016

These photos depict how this naturally cultivated plot of tea has produced progressively healthier and more prolific crops of tea over the last four years. With natural farming, the trees mature more slowly, as they must fend for themselves and build immunity to naturally occurring pests without the artificial assistance of chemical farm products. But as our friend from whom we source this tea explained to us today, when the trees eventually develop a stable immunity, they are significantly different in their constitution than conventionally farmed tea trees. And this means the quality of leaf that is harvested from these trees is also notably different.

Tea roasting, Nantou Taiwan

Now let's talk about the post production processing that went into making this month's batch of tea, namely — roasting. These leaves are from this year's spring harvest, and underwent medium oxidation, with the intent of roasting them significantly. But little did our friend know just how much roasting he would end up doing! These leaves were roasted for a total of about 100 hours!

The photo above shows the conventional tea roasting ovens that were used for the initial roastings. And the photo below is a relatively new design of an oven that is equipped with infrared heating elements that are mounted inside a perforated stainless steel cylinder that slowly rotates. So the oven has normal electrical heating elements to maintain a constant atmospheric temperature. And the infrared elements are a supplemental heat source that emit infrared waves, which are particularly effective in penetrating the leaves, resulting in a significantly more uniform effect.

With conventional ovens, it's virtually impossible to transform the constituents in the leaves as evenly. The surface is inevitably more exposed and hence more roasted than the center of the rolled leaf. This is how our friend was able to roast this batch of tea so extensively, without scorching the outer surface of the leaves. He has been working with this oven for a few years now, and finally becoming adept at it. Our friend is one of the most successful competition players we know, and it's his roasting skills that have brought him this success.

Infrared tea roasting oven

We tasted this batch after its initial processing — before being destemmed or roasted. It was noticeably oxidized, but the amount of stem material, along with the apparently varied levels of oxidation among the leaves frankly confused us! We just didn't know what to make of it, and decided to graciously decline the offer to procure some of the harvest... Then, six months later, we were served a pot of tea in our friends' home. Fair enough, we were told that it was the same batch of Wuyi from spring harvest, but we didn't recognize it at all. It had been destemmed by hand, and then roasted for... literally months-on-end. The results offer a thoroughly roasted character, but not burnt. It's got campfire notes for sure, but also, citrus, cocoa, roasted winter squash, tobacco... it's just rich! So here we are, sharing this batch of tea after all!

And in stark contrast to the new-fangled infrared tea roaster above, the contraption below also provides an essential function in the roasting process. This is a pre-modern design of a rice hulling machine. In this case, it has been repurposed to sift out the crumbled tea leaves and tea dust as the leaves undergo the roasting process. 

All wooden pre-modern grain sifter used for sifting tea leaves

We include the photo of the hulling machine to indicate that this is very much a hands on process — in addition to the initial processing of the leaves upon being harvested. There is a massive amount of time — as well as grunt work — that goes into each batch of whole leaf tea that is produced. So it's not just the natural farming and the rare specialty strain of tea trees. It's deep and comprehensive understanding of everything from the time of planting the trees, to the day of each harvest — several years later, and then beyond with the post production roasting process.

Want to know how this tea tastes like? Read all about the tasting notes and see a video with all the details here!

This is how we came to determine this batch of tea to be special enough to share with the Eco-Cha Tea Club! Please post your comments below for all of us to consider and learn from!

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