13 October 2009

Roasting Series – Changing Tastes

I’ve found that lighter-oxidized teas need less roasting time to achieve a desired taste, but that the flavors can also change quite rapidly.  I bought several samples of Longjing from tea retailers around 2003 and noticed that their flavors had all changed quite noticeably within 1 month.  I am sure that if one were to graph the subjective flavors of the tea (ie. good to bad; fresh to stale; floral to muted…) over time, there would be a non-linear change in the taste of green tea as it moves farther away from its production date. 


(A very rough representation of flavor loss for green tea over time)

I’d say that between 1 to 2 months out, the flavor would be subtly different.  6 and 7 months out, though, the difference would be more apparent.  Past a certain point, stale tea just tastes stale.  Heat can be applied to green teas to help wick away the staleness, but it’s difficult to replace lost flavors or aromas with greens.

Oolongs with body are more interesting for me to play with.  It’s possible to bring back lost flavors or reveal hidden ones that hadn’t been brought out before.  Roasts and re-fires also change the taste of the tea, so that after many cycles of proper roasting, rest and aging, there is a unique flavor profile that develops.  The process requires attentiveness, or the result will be over-roasted tea.  In cases where the roast is too much but the tea hasn’t been burnt (or roasted to death), the tea will need to undergo a natural reduction of fire, “退火” or “下火,” for which time is the best remedy.

I find that one of the hardest parts about tea roasting is to know what the product will taste like in the next week, month or year.  As the tea is roasted, it’s tasted and smelled at regular intervals to see when it’s ready.  However, once I feel like a tea is done and I stop the process, I often discover that the taste I liked after the final roast and the one that the tea takes on after it rests are quite different.  The problem then becomes one of how to seal in the flavor that I wanted when I finished roasting.

Recent conversations with my roasting teacher have revealed some important differences between what some amateur roasters have said about roasting technique, vs what his experience and skill favor.  There are some important things to note with the roasting process, which I will talk about in my next Roasting Series post.


  1. Okay, now please tell us how to roast our own teas. I really am interested in this. Would you do it in a wok?

  2. I have written a series about some of my roasting experiences. They've been labeled and you can access them under the "tea learning" topics section.

  3. Aging Oolong is always an interesting topic because it's not as well-known as aging Puerh. --Spirituality of Tea