Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Tea For One
Well, in all my moanings and wallowing lately I totally forgot to tell ya'll about my latest adventures in tea making!! So, I finally got the nerve up to actually pick the tea and attempt to process it. I have 3 bushes that survived out of six. I originally bought 3 white blooming camellias and 3 red or pink blooming. The pinks died. They apparently did not like it here. The whites are doing pretty good though.
Now, when it's time to pick, which is generally in the spring, you pick the last 2 leaves and the bud on the tip of the new growth at the end of the limb. It's very easy to determine new growth because the stems and leaves are a very bright green. This is the "first flush". Supposedly there is a "second flush" sometime in the summer but I'm not sure about all that.
My shrubs are still kinda small so yeah, I didn't have a huge haul of leaves but that's okay. I just wanted to have enough to process for a cup or two to see if I could even do it. So, the first step is to wilt the fresh picked leaves in the sun. I'm not sure how long this normally takes but I let mine sit for maybe a couple of hours. Then you take the leaves between your hands and roll them so that you are crushing the leaves and releasing the juices. Then you put the rolled leaves, still in a single layer, in a cool, dark area for a number of hours for the leaves to oxidize. In this process they turn a bronzish color. I think I left mine over night.
Then you take the leaves and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in a warm oven (about 250F) for about 15 minutes. This is supposed to turn the leaves a dark black. As you can see, some of mine did and some of them still stayed the bronzy color. I turned the oven up and let them stay in for longer (about 30 minutes) but they never got any darker. I think my mistake was that I did not roll the leaves hard enough or maybe wilt them long enough either. At any rate, they did look very much like loose, gourmet tea that you buy so I was happy that it seemed close.
Finally, I brewed one cup using about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the leaves. I was hoping for a dark breakfast type tea but that didn't happen. However, I did get a nice, bright and pretty tasty green tea! So, it wasn't all bad, I just need to do a bit more experimenting and research on how to get that dark, black tea flavor. I really think crushing the leaves more is the key. And maybe drying at a slightly higher temp.
It's pretty cool though, because you can get three types of tea from the same leaves just depending on how they are processed; either white, green or black! And, in doing some more research, I also discovered that there are actually small tea plantations in Fairhope, Mobile and Andalusia, Alabama! There's a big one in Charleston I think, or somewhere up there. lol!
So, I think it was successful to a certain extent and I definitely learned a good bit from it. And proved to myself and a number of other folks that you can grow tea in the United States! If you can grow camellias where you live, you can grow tea!