Tuesday, July 17, 2012

South Seattle Tea Estate - 2012 Harvest Report

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.


Naomi Rosen said...

This is pure awesomeness! My 4 year old and I started growing our first tea bush a few months ago so we have a few years before we get anything from it. We are in Las Vegas so we shall see if we get anywhere. This is enough motivation for me though!

Naomi Rosen said...

Oh....and I now refer to my backyard as the Vegas Tea Garden.

Steph said...

So cool!!! I'll have to try this with my one plant.

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear that you lost a tea bush. I got my first bush a couple weeks ago and will be posting images soon of the growth. Wondering if I should bring the bush in a covered area after the snow and ice this January.

Anonymous said...

What does one have to do to try your wares?

The Teaist said...

I loved this post and it was really encouraging! Perhaps silly of me but I never thought you could actually grow and process your own tea. What a fun project!

MarshalN said...

Great! Is there some way to help the plant keep warm in the winter? I think Pacific NW weather might just be a tad too cold.

Jason M. Cohen said...

Dear Brett,

Thanks for trying this tea for me during my visit!

It was interesting to say the least!

All the Best,
Jason M. Cohen

Unknown said...

Pretty difficult to grow tea in the Pacific NW, even harder where I live in the Kootenays, but we are trying. One thing that has helped me is to grow in pots which can winter inside and growing with a garden tunnel. More importantly is the varietal. I use the Sochi Tea plant which is a bit more frost hardy.