Saturday, July 9, 2016

Boston Teawrights - Tea Processing in the Comfort of Your Own Home!

Boston Teawrights is a company that distributes freshly harvested raw Camellia sinensis tea leaves for do-it-yourself at-home processing.  They refer to someone who crafts their own tea as a “teawright” like someone who crafts a play would be a “playwright.” 

This write-up is from a fall harvest that I received in November 2015 and processed at that time.  I am just now finishing this write-up about it because I wanted to let my processed tea rest for a few months to make sure the taste was stable.

My tea shipment came in an unusual foil padded envelope, and inside was a large typical looking Taiwanese tea package.  Boston Teawrights do not go into detail about how they keep the tea from drastically deteriorating during shipping, but if I had to guess I would think that the bag has probably been flushed with something like nitrogen to limit oxidation of the leaves, and they suggest that you can refrigerate the unopened bag for a week or two if you cannot get to the processing right away.  When you place an order, you are in a way making a pre-order, and the leaves will only ship when the farm is ready to do a harvest.

Upon opening the bag, the leaves inside did have some signs of slight withering and bruising, what Boston Teawrights refers to as “storage wither,” but the edges were still mostly crisp and the leaf veins were green.  They had a slightly leathery texture and some were shiny while some were more of a matte surface.  When I first opened the bag, the leaves had a strange plastic-like and spinach aroma, but after a few minutes they began to smell more like fresh cut grass.

Pretty neat to have leaves that were still on the bushes halfway around the world just a week prior.

Deciding how to process the leaves can be a difficult choice.  Boston Teawrights gives a few steps on their website for processing as green tea or black tea, and searching around Google did provide some more information, but I had a hard time finding any fully detailed step-by-step instructions, so some improvisation may be necessary if you want to stray from the Boston Teawrights guides.  Since this was my first time trying this out, I probably should have stuck to the guides on the website, but I ended up trying a few other steps along the way, which may have been a bad idea.

I first let the leaves wilt.  This is a common step for processing black tea, oolong, or white tea. (see the chart on this Wiki page about tea processing.)  It’s hard for someone without experience to know how long the wilting process should take.  Factors such as ambient temperature and humidity will have an effect on this process, though I am not sure to what extent.  I decided that I wanted to try to make an oolong.  I watched some videos online** of tea producers in China, and I noticed that they would often shake and toss the leaves while they were wilting, so I did this as well.  Active enzymes within the leaves will cause the leaves to oxidize during this time, and the shaking and tossing of the leaves will slightly bruise the leaves which will promote faster oxidization.  The leaf edges and veins start to take on a red color.

Before and After wilting and some oxidization.  This took place over night.  The aroma became very pleasant during this time.

After this point is where I likely messed up my batch of leaves.  Boston Teawrights suggests rolling the leaves after wilting, allowing more oxidization as needed, and then they describe a process of heating the leaves in an oven at 225F for 5-10 minutes which will halt all enzymatic activity and stop oxidization, increase fragrance, etc.  This heating step is often referred to as the “kill green” step.  When making green tea, you would do a kill green step before any oxidation has occurred which will keep the leaves green after drying them.   Instead of doing this kill green step in the oven though, I tried to replicate what I saw the Chinese tea makers do in the videos I watched. They did this step in a hot wok.  I tried heating the leaves in a wok on the stove, but unfortunately I believe I got the leaves too hot and nearly burnt them.

Note the small batch to the left.  I did not heat those in a wok like the main batch.  Main batch has been twisted/rolled and ready to dry.
 The final step is to dry the leaves in a barely warm oven -- 140F.  They suggest that this may take 40-60 minutes or more depending on how much water content the leaves have.  I believe I may have over-done this step too because my leaves ended up very light weight and brittle.

In the end, I’m not exactly sure what kind of tea I ended up creating.  The leaves looks pretty, but don’t look like typical oolongs or black teas.  If anything, the color is similar to some white teas.  The dry aroma reminded me of sweet orange rind, peach, autumn leaves, but also had a burnt smell.  Oops.

I brewed my leaves in a gaiwan using my typical 5g/95ml ratio.  I experimented with water temperatures, and they handled boiling water fine without getting bitter.  The brewed tea has an initial spicy (slightly peppery) flavor note and then a very nice honey-like sweet finish.  The main flavor notes are that of autumn leaves and peaches, but also that unfortunate burnt leaf flavor which has too much weight in the flavor for me to be able to drink this tea with enjoyment.  In general it is similar to a white tea, but slightly charred.  Another bad thing about my tea is that the overall flavor is very light-- there is no intensity at all even with boiling water and longer brew times.  The aftertatse is also very weak.  I tend to regard good strong aftertaste as being a sign of a good tea, so this is not impressive at all.  I believe I simply had too much heat when processing these leaves. 

White tea?  Black tea?  Oolong?  Hard to tell.

Interestingly I did have a very small second batch of leaves-- these were the leaves that fell off my tray during the wilting process and I did not do any additional wok frying or rolling of these leaves.  I just scooped them up and placed them in the warm oven to dry.  This second batch was only about 3g of leaf and I decided to brew it all in a gaiwain in one session.  This small batch, though similar in flavor profile to the first batch, tastes much cleaner since it did not get burned, and the aftertaste is a bit stronger.  It reminds me of a white tea even more than the first batch.

Small side-batch that didn't get burnt.  Ended up similar to a white tea.

Overall this was a really fun experience and I’m glad I had the chance to do this even if my tea did not turn out wonderful.  I have talked with several people who have also processed their own tea from Boston Teawrights, two people who had the same batch as me last November, and they managed to get much better results making green tea, white tea, black tea, and even oolong.  I will definitely consider trying this again some time, and I'll be sure to get some tips from my friends next time!

Link to Boston Teawrights:

** One fun channel on YouTube to see tea processing is that of Tea Drunk from NYC.  Also, you can find some nice videos of yancha processing made by Essence of Tea

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I mean seriously now i can make organic tea from tea leaves at my own home. It will be the perfect taste.