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.

No comments:

Post a Comment