In honor of winter’s beginning, we thought it would be fun to do an overview of roasted teas. What are they? Why are some teas roasted and others not? How does roasting affect the tea and flavor profile? How are they roasted? How do we do it in house?
If you’ve looked for tea from us, you may have seen the term “roasted” on some of our tea descriptors. If you’re familiar with our house roasts, our delicious roasted cliff oolongs, or even the classic hojicha, then you would know that roasted teas can be complex and deep with a variety of notes ranging from savory to sweet, and nutty to aromatic. Those toasty notes I find perfect for fall or winter mornings; nourishing and warming.
Let’s start at the beginning: What does it mean to roast a tea?
Roasting is a choice that can be made by a tea producer during the production process, or a tea supplier after the production process. When we create our house roasts, we roast after the initial production process, hence it gives us a way to shift the tea toward our choosing. Any tea can be roasted, but that doesn’t mean just any tea should be. Roasting highly depends on the type of tea and the desired flavor profile. It can result in a darker tea with a darker infusion and deeper notes. Many teas are meant to be floral, green, or bright, so it wouldn’t make sense to alter that flavor profile so drastically. Other teas are meant to be deep, nutty, and smokey, so an integral part of the production process is that roasting.
When does the roasting happen in the process?
After the tea goes through it’s initial stage of processing, where it goes from a freshly plucked leaf to a stable dried leaf, then a tea can be roasted. Depending on tea, it can be done in a variety of ways. Some of the ways include: a pan or wok over a flame, bamboo roasters over charcoal, or by baking it in a specialized oven. Some teas will be roasted quickly over high heat, and others slowly over low heat stretching from hours even to days (some of the best “competition-grade” roasts use this method). The way the tea is roasted will greatly affect the flavor profile. A small amount of roasting can enhance flavors already present in the tea, while a stronger roast can create a totally new flavor profile!
What are some examples of teas we carry that are roasted during the production process?
In this section, we’ll walk through and highlight some of our best roasted teas!
Our Chinese Cliff Teas are roasted in a traditional method that has been done for hundreds of years. Slow roasted over charcoal in bamboo roasters and this gives these teas their beautifully deep, round, and sweet roasted notes with that hint of charcoal and smoke. But our Cliff Teas are so expertly roasted, that we find barely any hints of smoke…the flavors are melded into the tea…forming a beautiful complex array in your cup. Da Hong Pao, Shui Xian, & Rou Gui.
Lapsang Souchong is unique in that not only is it roasted, but it’s also smoked over a fire of pine wood, giving it that characteristic smokiness!
We have many roasted Tie Guan Yin oolongs, from China as well as Taiwan.
Anxi is a county in southeastern China famous for its rolled Oolong tea. These days, lighter, more floral Oolong tea is very popular, like Jin Guan Yin, giving an example of the roasting process not totally changing the tea, just enhancing the aromatic notes already present. Traditionally, darker roasted types were more prevalent, such as our Nong Xian Tie Guan Yin & Yun Xiang Tie Guan Yin. These are still what we call “medium roasts”, where the infused tea has changed to a more golden amber hue when steeped. This carmelizes the leaf, giving a more sweet & nutty cup with less dryness. From Taiwan, our Tung Ting (and our House Roasts, see further below) is also a similar roast.
For examples of darker roast rolled oolongs, from Taiwan’s central High Mountain ranges, we have our High Mountain Tie Guan Yin – Traditional Roast and the High Mountain Tie Guan Yin – Competition Roast. Often tea grower selects their finest harvest to submit to tea tasting competitions…this tea is then given extra time and attention by roasting at a lower temperature over a longer period of time, often many weeks.
We’ve been quite fortunate to procure many great dark roasts (perhaps they go well with our climate here)!
Other examples of unique dark roasts from are:
Nantou Dark Roast – High Mountain region in Taiwan. Sweet with notes of birchbark & almonds
Buddha’s Hand – Pinglin, Taiwan. named for the style of leaf rolling resembling the Buddha’s hands in meditation
Organic Qian Tan – Zhejiang, China. Great everyday dark oolong
Red Oolong – Shan Lin Xi, High Mountain Range in Taiwan. Heavier oxidation gives a fuller red cup.
There are also some Japanese Green teas that are roasted! The grassy and umami sencha profile can be highlighted through a delicate roasting process. Hojicha is a popular tea, made of twigs (instead of leaf) that have been roasted, resulting in toasty and nutty caramel notes. Fire Sencha is also lightly roasted, resulting in a deliciously savory and nutty tea.
What about our house roasts?
Our house roast teas are roasted after the production process here in Vermont. We have bamboo roasters from Taiwan here in the Teahouse and after handpicking select teas to add our little touch, we get the roasters going according to recipes we’ve developed over the years. It varies, but generally we slow roast teas over a period of several weeks. The smell of roasted tea wafting through the teahouse is magical! It is so incredibly decadent, calming, and sweet. We definitely look forward to whenever we get the chance to roast! This is how we create our House Roast Si Ji Chun and our House Roast Tung Ting, two complex teas with delightful notes of fruit, caramel, and nuts.
but our Maple Roasted Teas are quite different…
Our Maple roasted teas are also made in house, using local VT maple syrup. They are coated in the syrup and then roasted again to dehydrate and crystallize the syrup on the tea. The wonderful thing about Maple Roasts is that the Maple comes through most in the first steep, creating a gentle maple sweetness that melds with the notes of the tea itself in those first few sips. As the steeps go on, however, the maple tends to fade and you’re left to taste the complexity of the tea beneath it. It’s a wonderful drinking experience! They’re a great options for someone who likes honey in their tea, but the sweetness still isn’t too overpowering for someone who likes their tea straight. We have one green, Maple Hojicha. We have two oolongs, Maple Roasted Oolong and Maple Roasted Guan Yin. Lastly, we have three black teas, Maple Black Gold, Maple Darjeeling, and Maple Breakfast Blend.
What about the Maple Steamed Oolongs? These are a little different.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Maple Syrup production process, the syrup is made by boiling down Maple Sap, which when tapped from the trees is a much more watery consistency. It has a very delicate sweetness, and if you happen to be at the teahouse in the spring, you might be able to get a pot of tea steeped in the sap! It adds a very gentle sweet and earthy dimension to the tea. In the springtime, after we tap the trees and collect the sap, we boil it over a fire for many hours until it becomes that thick syrup we love over pancakes (and in/on just about everything else too). In this process, the boiling sap creates a lot of steam, so we take an oolong and lay it above the maple steam for multiple as the syrup boils down. Then it is finish roasted over maple charcoal. We currently carry two Maple Steamed Oolongs.
Maple Steamed Guan Yin #1 – after being carefully steamed over maple sap, this one is finish roasted by high firing over a mix of Vermont maple, cherry, & pine charcoal, giving it a distinct smokey touch.
Maple Steamed Guan Yin #2 – OUT OF STOCK– this batch is a blend of Autumn Harvest Nong Xiang & Yun Xiang Tie Guan Yin Oolong, steamed over the boiling Maple Sap and finished with a slow roast over Vermont Cherry Charcoal.
This was our little overview of roasted teas! They’re so delicious and wonderful for these colder days, and as you’ve seen, there’s so many different types of them. Hopefully this post will help you find the right one for you!