Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sorting, Roasting & Drying

Once the leaves have been gathered, it's time to remove the larger leaves and trim the stems. This is important because the large leaves and stems would make the tea too bitter. Once that's done, the exciting part begins.

The "gamasot" (somewhere between a cauldron and a wok) is heated to 350°C and the leaves are thrown in and tossed quickly. This stops the leaves from oxidizing and is known as "kill green". They quickly wither and shrivel, tangling together in clumps. When the first roast is finished, the leaves are quickly brought to a large, round table to be fan-cooled and hand rolled. We each grab a handful of leaves and press them into a ball and roll them a bit vigorously.

It's important for the leaves to remain loose throughout the process, so after rolling, we untangle and sort them thinly on screens to dry for 20 minutes. After drinking tea and chatting, we came back to repeat the process. This time, the gamasot is lowered to 180°C, still hot but after watching the tea master stir the leaves with his bare hands I decided to try the same. It was a totally different experience feeling the leaves in your fingers then with the thick cotton gloves. The side of my pinky did brush against the hot iron once, and it was very hot but it didn't burn.

The third roast was done at 150°C and 140°C for the remainder. After the few few roasts, the leaves no longer had to be rolled and the process went much more quickly. It was interesting watching the leaves transform after each roast and dry, from the fresh, tender leaves we'd just picked to the tiny coiled, wiry leaves at the end of the night. What began as four large bamboo baskets full of leaves eventually withered down to a single small basket.

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