How to Process Your First Tea

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Now that you’ve harvested the tea leaves from your very own tea bush in Growing Your Own Tea, Part 1 and Growing Your Own Tea, Part 2, you may be wondering; how do I make these into something wonderful? If you wish to go back to olden times – say, 3,000 BCE, you could always just take the leaves straight off the tree and brew them; for tens of hundreds of years, this was the only known method of making tea. However, now that all sorts of tea processing has been invented you’re probably much keener to process it into something a little more refined. This will be your first processing project. If your tea plant has had adequate amounts of nitrogen (particularly ammonium) while shooting, it will be perfect for green tea.

For this project, we will be making green tea. Green tea is one of the least processed and least oxidised teas available, and is thus the least strenuous to create – especially for a home-brewer who is new to the job. For a very long time only varieties of green tea were available in China, until eventually other, more complicated teas were made. Green tea, on the whole, is much easier to work with.

First you will want to spread the leaves over a large surface for anywhere from 2 – 3 hours; varying the time they are left out for will produce different results with regards to taste, so feel free to experiment and see which brings you the best flavour. Do not spread the leaves too thickly during this stage; the thinner the layer, the better – this is a stage where the moisture content of the leaves is reduced, it won’t be very effective if they’re all clumped together. This part of the process should be done in the shade.

While they are drying, sift through them to find any debris that shouldn’t be there, as well as discoloured leaves. Such things should be removed, as they will ruin your final product.

Now, as you’ll recall, green tea isn’t oxidised – in fact, your first goal is to halt the oxidation process altogether. This can be achieved either through frying the leaves in a pan, or steaming them. In this case we will steam them with a steamer, exactly the same way you would with vegetables. This should be done for roughly one minute, thus reducing the moisture content of the leaves to just over 50%.

Preheat your oven to 120ºC (or 250ºF). While the oven is preheating, be sure to spread your leaves out evenly over a sheet of baking paper. When the oven is ready, place the tray inside for 20 minutes, thus further reducing the moisture content.

After this, you should store your leaves how you would store any other tea you own; in an airtight jar well out of the way of sunlight. Do not store it anywhere where things like mildew could form – the last thing we want is for the tea to develop fungus or mould.

You may have noticed that these instructions do not involve a rolling stage; it is not strictly necessary for your first tea, however it will produce a greater quality of tea if done properly.

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551 – 479 BCE: Confucius and Tea

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We continue our tea history lessons today with a small post on Confucius.

Confucius lived in ancient China (Circa 551 – 479 BCE) and today is considered to be the greatest philosopher in ancient Chinese history. Confucianism, a philosophy adopted by great numbers of ancient Chinese people, was first founded by Meng Zi (Confucius’ student) and Confucius himself, although the date of its establishment can only be guessed at.

Confucianism had a great impact on Chinese tea culture, and became an important starting point for the time-honoured and ancient Chinese tea ceremony. Tea was associated with harmony, etiquette, optimism and calmness, and this laid down the brickwork for the ceremony, which was partially based upon these four imperative principles.

The etiquette of simply serving tea (sans ceremony) was also influenced by Confucianism. Confucius himself was also noted as a consumer of the beverage.

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