I talked a bit about tea roasting a while back (Tieh Kuan Yin Roasting), and now it’s time to catch up on that. One of the unique things about TKY is that it goes through multiple roastings, and its taste improves with age (usually). In preparing for a recent tea competition, A-Liang roasted, tested, and re-roasted about 40 different TKYs. During 2 different visits I got to taste the teas with him, and even lent a hand unloading the oven and remixing some of the tea, which I discuss below.
The tea roaster is basically a large oven with racks for drying the tea. The Photo at left shows me removing the rack. There are ten trays. Because of the air flow in the oven, the top racks tend to be a few degrees hotter than the bottom, so the tea has to be re-mixed between roastings to maintain a uniform flavor. The basic procedure is to roast the tea from 4 – 12 hours at a temperature between 90 – 120 Celsius (194 – 248 Farenheit). Then the tea is mixed, bagged, and alllowed to ‘rest’ for 3 – 7 days. Then it is tested and re-roasted accordingly. It takes 3 or 4 roasts before the tea is ready for market.
These photos show how the tea is mixed before being loaded back into the oven for a 3rd round of roasting. The technique is to move the central pile of tea to the front of the tray by ’weaving’ the scoops of tea – a scoop to the center, one to the right, one to the left, and so on until the whole pile has been mixed. The process is then repeated to push the pile back to the center of the basket again. It seems quite simple, but I found it to be a real ‘zen’ experience. I began to have a sense of what the tea really is – I could feel it in my hands, see it in the nuggets, smell its fragrance. For a moment, I could understand a little of A-Liang’s relationship with his teas, and how his craftsmanship has developed over years of practice, just like a musician playing a favorite instrument, or a painter mixing colors on a palette.
My reward for helping out was an opportunity to try some of the tea. This was one of the same ones I tried a few weeks ago, and it was very interesting to see how the flavor had improved with the additional roasting. At our previous test, the tea had a flowery bouquet and was slightly bitter, leaving the mouth dry and feeling thirsty. This time around, the flavor had progressed to TKY’s trademark fruitiness.
On my next visit to the shop, A-Liang had the same tea all bagged up and ready for the Tea Competition, which I’ll cover in my next report.