Friday, May 11, 2012

2008 Wenshan Baozhong Roasting Experiment

Back in May of 2008 my little sister Nicole, her husband Justice, Justice's little sister, my friend David, his fiance Gwen and I all spent 8 awesome days together on a tea trek in Taiwan. During our trip, everyone purchased a good amount of fresh oolong to bring back home.

Last week, while spending some time in her sister-in-law's kitchen, Nicole discovered one unopened 300 gram bag of Wenshan Baozhong forgotten in a cupboard! Nicole and her sister-in-law were sad that it was never enjoyed and decided to send it to me for some comments on its current quality.

A few days later I held the neglected bag of tea in my own hands. The vacuum seal on the bag was broken and probably had been for years. The leaves themselves looked OK but they lacked aroma. I brewed a small amount in a gaiwan. It was flavorless and flat with only the tiniest hint of its original Baozhong fragrance. Worst of all was the aftertaste, which was bitter and harsh.

I decided to experiment with my Taiwanese electric basket-roaster (although my hopes were very low that the tea could be saved). I saved about an ounce of unroasted tea in a little tin and poured the rest (about 9.5 ounces) into the basket-roaster.

The basket-roaster (it has a lid) and the tea's original bag:

I baked the tea at Phoenix Tea for 2 hours at 100° C before stopping to mix gently. Towards the end of this period the store began to smell sweet. Then I raised the temperature to 130° C for 1 hour and mixed again. Finally I lowered the temperature back to 100° C for one more hour.

At this point the leaves (and the store) were smelling wonderful. The smell is hard to describe but it's a little bit like I was making candy and baking sugar cookies at the same time.

Unfortunately when I brewed the tea a few minutes later the flavor was still bad. It had a hint of warming roasty goodness but it was bland and the aftertaste was terrible. I decided to roast the tea longer the next morning.

The following morning I baked the tea for 1 hour at 100° C and then 2 hours at 130° C (mixing gently every hour). Once again the same heavenly aroma filled the air.

I estimated an equal pinch of leaf into two bowls and poured in freshly boiled spring water.

Roasted on the Left. Original on the Right.

Interestingly the Original tasted slightly better this morning. Most likely it benefited greatly from 24 hours spent outside of the bag it had been trapped in for 4 long years. It still lacked flavor but it yielded more floral aroma and had an improved aftertaste.

The Roasted tea was nuttier than it had been yesterday which for me was an improvement. Cinnabar, who joined me for this tasting but did not try it the day before, pointed out undesirable notes of cornflakes and straw. We both agreed that the tea was "not good" and had a weird aftertaste (sort of metallic tasting).

After the Roasted tea had cooled down I put it back inside its original bag, a step I now regret because I suspect the bag is partly to blame for the tea's bad aftertaste.

A week has now passed since this experiment began. Today I plan to throw away the original bag, roast the tea for a few more hours, and then store the tea in a special jar for a few weeks. After which I will write a follow up to this post.


Eric G. said...

Perhaps roasted at a lower temp? Have you asked Shiuwen? She might be of some help. I too have found a bag of neglected baozong with a broken seal. But from 2010, not '08. It's still not very good. I just might try roasting it today in my roaster.

Eric G. said...

I just did about 35C for 60min, rotating every 10 to 15 min... came out pretty good, not as good as it should, but not bad at all !

Brett said...

Wow Eric... I thought I was roasting at a low temp... but just 35°C? Now that really is low!

Also, 60 minutes seems too short to me. My tea has now spent 9 hours in the roasting-basket and I'd consider it now to be "lightly roasted."

I based these parameters that I used loosely on advice from a tea farming friend in Taiwan and an email from Josh Chamberlain (of J-Tea).

Good advice to talk to Shiuwen too. I'll make a point to do that soon.

Alex Zorach said...

I find it interesting that you note that this tea's floral aroma came out after letting it air out, after roasting it. I think of floral qualities as more fleeting aromas, which tend to be lost to air more easily, and which are often destroyed by roasting. But this could be purely a false impression, because I don't have any experience roasting teas like you describe here...that's one reason it's particularly interesting for me to read about this process.

Brett said...

Alex- In cases where floral aroma is added I find your theory is correct, but in cases of naturally floral tea it's surprisingly quite random. I've experienced many occasions when airing-out and/or roasting will enhance the floral qualities of an oolong... especially when the tea has been stored poorly for a long while.