Thursday, May 15, 2008

Making Green Tea the Traditional Korean Way- Part Three: Rolling the Tea, Drying the Tea

When the tea leaves have spent some time on the hot cauldron and are becoming soft and subtle, it is now time for them to be rolled. The first rolling takes place in the hot cauldron. The old ladies working over the hot heat of the cauldron push down on the leaves, briefly compressing them before they are rolled together. This process allows the moisture in the leaves to dissipate thereby sealing within the fresh energy of the tea.

When the leaves have absorbed enough of the heat they shrink, wilt, and loose some of their bright green luster they once proudly displayed. They are removed from the heat of the cauldron and are laid to rest on linen tightly pinned to a wood tabletop. They are then hand rolled much in the same way fresh dough is hand rolled and kneaded. This rolling is done to achieve maximum flavour and aroma evenly distributed over the surface of each leaf. It also conditions the leaf to curl tightly on itself as it drys. The soft leaves are rolled vigorously, but carefully. One must be careful not to rip, tear, or shred the skin of the leaves.

After the leaves are rolled they will get some deserved rest. These leaves will go through this cycle of drying over the cauldron, rolling, and then drying in the open air two or three more times. The leaves go though this cycle to achieve balance and harmony. If the leaves are dried to quickly they will be in shock and will burn, if the leaves are dried to slowly they become exhausted and will loose their qi. Making Korean tea the traditional way requires one to be closely in tune with tea and the world in which it is a part of. One must strive for the middle path.

Cho Ui wrote the following about this balancing act,

Place hot tea leaves on a screen, shake several times to cool off, and then filter out particles from the leaves. One needs to repeat this cycle of stirring and cooling with less heat each time to properly dry the leaves...

The mysterious taste of tea starts with the sincerity of those who make the tea. It requires refined tea making skills and fine brewing to achieve harmony between water and tea.

The quality of tea is determined as the tea leaves are placed into a hot cauldron and stirred the first time. The clarity of tea depends on water and fire. The correct level of heat produces clarity of aroma while the essence of tea remains in the cauldron. Low heat removes the sublime aroma and taste while high heat burns the tea leaves. Firewood that is immature will not burn well and will cause the jade colour of tea to be lost. Tea leaves would become overly ripe if the heat is too long, and less ripe if there is not enough heat.

If tea leaves are too ripe, the colour fades to yellow. If tea leaves are less ripe, the colour turns to black. Only the appropriate level of heat will yield the smooth and sweet taste, if not the taste becomes harsh and astringent. Tea leaves with white marks are acceptable. Tea leaves that are evenly treated are the best.
Paraphrased from a Translation of Cha Shin Jeon in The Book of Korean Tea by Yang-Seok Yoo with changes


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