24 May 2009

The Spot Roasting Method

Many oolong teas can do well with a light firing right before you brew.

Spot firing/roasting is when one uses a heat source on the tea prior to brewing it. This can give an oolong a fuller flavor & aroma, and more body for the brew.

My first attempt at spot roasting was with my rice cooker and an aged Baozhong. The tea had picked up some extraneous smells from storage. I just stuck it straight into the cooker, put the lid down and put the stuff through two cycles of “cooking,” immediately brewing it afterwards. It tasted much better afterwards, free of the unpleasant musty/sour taste, but without loss to the soft, slight tartness & smoothness of aged tea.

Sometime late last year, I found myself trying to find different sources of aged oolongs in the US. Through one of my online searches, I came across Imen of Tea Habitat’s blog called “Tea Obsession.” In particular, the search brought up a link to her article on Chaozhou-style open-flame roasting, which can be found here:

                         Tea Obsession Article

It was brilliant, the first time I had found someone talking in length about what I had only previously heard of through rumors. Imen even included clear instructions and pictures on how to spot roast with nothing more than a flame and a piece of paper – awesome!

Afterwards, I dug up more information on roasting with other materials and types of flames. Aside from paper, I’ve seen specialized single-serving spot roast equipment made of metal or clay, and I’ve even used an old Yixing pot for roasting. I still prefer paper for a spot roast as it takes less time than a clay pot to heat up, although one must be careful not to burn a hole in the sheet. I find that moving the paper around over the flame and gently tossing the tea produces good results; 5 to 10 minutes of roasting should be sufficient.

15 May 2009

The Hidden Roasting Method - Part 3 - Lessons Learned

When I started to use the rice cooker to "roast" and freshen teas, I primarily used high mountain-style teas.  The first one was a Shanlinxi, the next was an Alishan.  Within the first few months, I also played with Baozhong and other light oolongs.

LESSON #1:  High mountain teas are delicate; practice on other teas first.  The interior temperature of the rice cooker can reach nearly 100 degrees celcius, which is too high for working with high mountain teas.  I should have used more robust teas first, like black teas or sturdy and less-expensive oolongs, to understand how long/how to best remove moisture from the teas, and then to give them more flavor through correct application of heat.

LESSON #2:  Use a liner.  The rice cooker works by heating the bottom of the inner bowl directly, which causes scorching and uneven heating of the leaves.  By placing a liner on the bottom, like a clean towel, the leaves get the benefit of the heat without burning.  Make sure to toss the leaves around every so often, too.  This tossing also takes technique and experience, but experiment on your own to see what works for you.

LESSON #3:  Not all teas can be saved.  After my first experiment saving the prized Shanlinxi, I thought I could bring life back to anything.  Heck, if it worked for a high mountain tea, I assumed it would work for anything.  Not true.  Some teas don't have a strong enough base to withstand more heat.  In my experience, this includes very green/very-lightly oxidized oolongs.  I find that competition Baozhongs, for example, are less oxidized than standard ones and have poor shelf-life in comparison.  Some green teas can improve with my method, but many, such as Biluochun, are too delicate for an imprecise rice cooker.

LESSON #4:  Sometimes, you don't need to use the "cook" function.  Basically, the rice cooker has 2 functions:  "cook" and "keep warm."  Cook is a higher heat setting, but it will not stay in cook for long without the presence of moisture.  I can fool my rice cooker by lining the inside of my rice cooker with a bit of water, which actually aided the removal of odors from some of the teas I used.  However, I found that with most of the teas (outside of robust & heavily-roasted oolongs) simply putting the tea in the cooker and leaving it on "keep warm" for a while, with a stick across the top to prevent the lid from closing (and to allow air to circulate) sufficed nicely.  Again, remember to stir the tea.

A big problem with a rice cooker's imprecise heat setting is the difficulty with which flavor is sealed after the roast.  The tea's flavor continues to change and after a few weeks, it may not taste the same as it did fresh out of the cooker.  There are techniques in temperature manipulation that are used in actual tea roasters that are necessary for the flavor sealing.

In recent months, I've taken to doing spot-roasting prior to drinking some of my oolongs.  It requires a piece of paper (preferably unbleached) and a flame of some sort.  I'll talk about that, and some other lessons from my roasting, soon.

07 May 2009

Tea as a magical weight-loss drink?

Over the years, many different types of teas have been purported to do the trick. Black teas, moldy teas, green & white teas, and now, oolong and Wuyi Mountain teas. Maybe it does work for a variety of reasons, and maybe it's just a bunch of lies along the same lines as the slimming/lengthening/strengthening supplements sold on late-night TV.

But I do have a friend that has a great explanation, and he would know because he imports tons of weight-loss tea. His explanation is simple: the tea has little if any effect, the Pomelo leaves that are added to it do. Pomelo leaves and their extract have been used as a natural laxative for a long time. He jokingly said to me that people who drink that tea and don't lose weight have a serious problem, as the more tea you drink, the more you potty and the more weight you lose.  It's quite simple.  The ingredients are even listed right there on the box!

You can check the package of dieter's tea in your local store and see what additives they've put in.  I can't comment on whether or not plain old black, green or oolong tea has any significant, lab-proven effect on weight-loss, but Pomelo leaves sure do.