Monday, May 27, 2013

making tea at Cheong Seok Gol; roasting and drying

⤶ Part 1; harvest

Once we ate and had a quick tea break, it was time to sort through the leaves, one by one to remove any that were to big, broken, or pour quality, and remove the long stems. This may have been one of the most tedious parts of the process but many hands made quick work.

After another tea break, we gathered around the two traditional cast-iron "gamasot", sort of a wide, shallow cauldron set into a fire pit. Traditionally, Korean tea was roasted was roasted over a wood fire and though tradition is important in making good tea, gas fire is preferable for keeping a steady temperature, a very important detail. The gamasot was heated to about 280ºC and the tea master dropped in a basket full of leaves. They immediately began popping and snapping on the hot iron cauldron as he tossed them in the heat. Again, we all remarked the incredible smell, which I personally found reminded me of sweet pea mixed with sort of a dry curry smell.

From the gamasot, the leaves were quickly transferred to a cloth-topped table where we tossed them in front of a fan to cool them down. This had to be done quickly because the heat would ferment them, which would defeat the purpose of the whole process. When they were cool enough, we each grabbed a pile and cupping both our hands over them, rolled them in alternating diagonal directions; back and forth to the left, then back and forth to the right. After doing this a few times, the leaves had to be totally untangled form each other by tossing them in your fingers and pulling apart the larger clumps.

After the first batch, we rotated tasks and it was my team's turn to roast. We put on three pairs of thick, cotton gloves for the heat, but even with them, after a minute the heat of the gamasot was scalding. The roasting was done by grabbing the leaves in the back, then bringing them around the circumference of the heap, them pushing them to the middle, making sure that all the leaves got roasted evenly.

Once all the leaves had been roasted, cooled, rolled, and separated, we spread them out on large screens to dry. They had to be spread very thinly and not piled on top of one another or they wouldn't dry properly.

While spreading them on the screens, I asked Mr Ahn what he thought about the leaves. He said they looked a little big, but not too bad. With all the leaves on the rack drying, we gathered again in the common room for more tea and snacks. After a long day of travel, picking, and roasting, I thought we'd be going to sleep soon, then getting up early to continue the process but after 40 minutes, Mr Ahn pointed at the clock and we all returned to the back room, gathered all the leaves into baskets, and began the roasting/drying process again. This time, the gamasot was heated to only heated to about 140ºC and we only needed a single pair of gloves.

Normally, three roasts and dries would be enough, but a heavy rain began to fall, not ideal for drying the leaves, so we repeated the process a forth time. A bit after midnight, after one last tea break, we were finally done for the night.

The sweet, heavy smell of tea leaves hung pleasantly in my throat as I laid down on the mat on the floor. It wasn't long before a slipped into a deep sleep.

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