As the manager of the South Seattle Tea Estate
, I am saddened to inform you that 5-year-old "Leafer," our oldest tea plant, died over the winter. The 3 remaining plants looked scrubby and beaten at the start of spring. For this reason I decided not to make spring 2012 tea.
Summer has been good to our 3 tea plants and they are now, for the most part, looking healthy and producing new leaves.
On July 15, 2012, I decided to make an experimental summer oolong. The harvest took place at 9:00 am. Due to a dearth of tender leaf and bud sets I decided to pluck more mature, lower leaves. In all, I selected 28 leaves for a total of 15 grams. The leaves were arranged in a single layer in a glass baking dish for withering.
After about an hour and a half of withering in the shade the sun broke through the clouds. At this point I moved the dish to the roof of my car for some full-sun withering. The day became quite warm with a nice gentle breeze.
2:00 pm - The leaves were a little bit limp but some bits were too crispy for my liking. Also, some leaves appeared to be getting a "sun burn" so I decided to bring it inside.
3:15 pm - I spent 3 minutes shaking and kneading the leaves.
8:00 pm - I spent another 3 minutes kneading, twisting, shaking and bruising the leaves. I felt like the leaves were getting too dry and brittle so I mounded them up together and covered them with an upside down bowl.
The following morning (today) at 6:30 am - I checked the tea. It had a sweet tobacco-like aroma and a mottled brown and green coloring like camouflage. After ~3 minutes more rolling and kneading. I mounded up and recovered the limp leaves with the same bowl.
9:00 am - I did even more kneading and rolling and then took this photo after which the leaves were then left uncovered.
11:00 am - I baked the leaves for 30 minutes at 250° F in a cast-iron pan. The leaves were mainly in a single layer. I gave them a gentle stir about halfway through baking. The next picture is of my finished tea. It weighed about 5 grams.
I fired up the kettle and placed half of my total harvest into a small gaiwan. My first steep was boiling water for 3 minutes. The color was a lovely golden yellow and the liquor had a sweet smell with notes of raw pumpkin, cooked yam and unlit cigars.
I was trying to make a darker tea, but I was still pleased with the outcome of this experiment. The tea lacked for mouth-feel but it surprised me with complexity. The raw pumpkin aroma stuck with it through 3 infusions but the taste kept changing. It was always brighter and fruitier than I was expecting. I even picked up some guava and nectarine notes as well as a syrupy sweetness.
I'm glad I have enough leaf left over for one more session. I plan to bring it to Phoenix Tea
this weekend to share with other tea lovers.