Roasting Your Tea
Roasting your tea can be fun! As a tea drinker, we play an important role in determining the taste of our tea by our brewing method and techniques. Roasting gives you another tool to influence the flavor of your tea.
Professional tea makers, using professional equipment, roast tea for the purposes of (i) reducing water content of tea leaves, (ii) eliminating undesireable aromas or off-flavors, and/or (iii) creating a signature flavor profile to their teas. Roasting can also reduce the caffeine content of tea leaves. These should not be the objectives of your playful experiments, at least not based on the instructions below. You can expect certain changes, but the changes may not be overly dramatic.
- First start out by selecting tea leaves suitable for roasting. Your tea leaves should be of good quality and not a lightly or non-oxidized tea (e.g. BaoZhong oolong, green tea). These teas do not stand up well to roasting, and roasting may actually cause more bitterness. (Selecting a tea with a slight off-flavor is acceptable, but try to maximize your chances of success by starting with something that is not overly challenging.)
- Second, select a heating apparatus. You can use a stove or toaster oven. The important thing is to thoroughly clean out the oven and eliminate any odor. Tea leaves are notorious for their ability to absorb odors.
- When you are ready to roast your tea leaves, preheat your oven to the lowest temperature. (On my oven, the lowest temperature is 170oF.) Using a low temperature will prevent you from burning the tea leaves accidentally. 170oF is a good starting point, but if you want an even lower temperature, you can leave the oven door slightly ajar. If you do so, you may want to insert a thermometer to monitor the temperature.
- Place your tea leaves in a stainless steel net strainer. (The net allows for better air circulation.) Place enough tea leaves to have a layer covering the bottom of the strainer. (Too much tea leaves overlapping means that you have to stir often to ensure even roasting, causing the tea leaves to break apart.) Do not use too little tea leaves either, because the leaves may get burnt easily. In the photo shown, I placed around 56g (2 oz) of tea leaves in the strainer.
- Place the strainer in the middle rack of the oven. To catch small shreds of tea leaves, you can place a pan on the bottom rack under the strainer.
- Set a timer to 10 ~ 15 minutes, so you can return and stir the leaves to prevent burning. After 30 minutes, remove the tea leaves from the oven. Smell the tea leaves and make a note of the aroma. Let cool for 30 minutes to an hour. Brew and try the tea.
- You can repeat the above steps as many times as you wish and experiment with how the flavor of the tea leaves changes. When the tea leaves begins to release a burnt flavor, it's probably a good time to stop.
(Some people enjoy a strong burnt flavor, and perhaps decide to burn their tea on purpose. Personally I consider it a pity to have burnt smokey flavor cover up the exquite flavor of good tea leaves.)
When you become more confident with your roasting skills (mainly not burning your tea leaves), you can experiment with different variables (for example, higher temperature at shorter or longer intervals). You may be pleasantly surprised by the different flavors you create!
Have FUN with your roasting experiments!